Five things we learned about Charles Koch

Kai Ryssdal Oct 21, 2015

His father wrote him a letter when Koch turned one. Koch found it in a safety deposit box when his father died.

Fred Koch reads “A Christmas Carol” to his sons, David and Charles, in the boys’ bedroom of their Wichita home 1947. (Courtesy Koch Industries) 

He said in that he had given us each an insurance policy to pay for our education, and we could either use that to develop and, and learn to make a contribution, or we could squander it. And if we squander it’ll ruin our lives, and we will never experience what he called, “the glorious feeling of accomplishment.”

His father made him use nearly all his spare time to work – starting at a young age.


Charles Koch pitching hay in Wichita, Kansas, 1941. (Courtesy Koch Industries)

…like, started out at age six digging dandelions at, you know, 100 degree-temperature, and I’m thinking, “Why did my father hate me, and all my friend’s fathers love them?” They’re out swimming, and having a great time, and here I am digging that.

And his father’s philosophy behind that?

He said, “Uh, I don’t want my sons to be country club bums. So I’m going to make them work.” Years later I ask him, I said, “Pop, why were you so much tougher on me than my younger brothers?” He said, “Son, you plum wore me out.”

His company’s still based in Wichita, Kansas, in part because of the region’s work ethic.

We recruit from colleges where they have kids that grew up the way I did having to work all the time. If you don’t milk the cows you don’t have any milk. If you don’t, if you don’t sow the seeds and bring in the crop, you have no income, so you have to work, and so there’s not this sense of entitlement.

His wife got him to build a bigger house than he wanted, during the ’73 oil embargo.

Charles Koch stands next to the home he and his wife Liz built in 1974, a year after getting married. They still live there.


Charles Koch stands next to the home he and his wife Liz built in 1974, a year after getting married. They still live there. (Courtesy Koch Industries)

I thought we were going to go broke. And I remember sitting there with my legs hanging over into the hole in the ground, saying, “Honey, we got the money to fill this thing back up, but I don’t think we’ve got the money to finish it,” ’cause I thought we had a good shot of going broke with the way things were going. We got through it, but as Lenin said, “You learn through struggle.”

He’s self-aware about his reputation among his critics.

Kai mentioned this during their interview, telling Koch, “to those who disagree with you in politics today, you are pretty much Darth Vader.”

That’s why I get all the death threats.

He golfs one and a half days a week, on average, and he works out for an hour or more each day – at least, before he hurt his foot.


Charles Koch recently had foot surgery and chose the American flag for his cast. (Tommy Andres/Marketplace)

Here’s a snapshot of an average day:

I get up at 6:00. I work. After I work out, then I work, and I read. I read, and while I’m working out I watch TV.

Listen to our full interview with Koch.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.