Growing up a Koch
For years, Chase Koch said, he seriously considered not following in his father’s footsteps at Koch Industries.
Chase Koch, son of Charles Koch, is president of Koch Agronomic Services after working his way up through a series of positions at the company.
He spoke to a packed session of the Wichita Downtown Rotary, which gathered Monday at Botanica. His father; his mother, Liz; and his wife, Annie, also attended and laughed along with the hundreds in the audience.
Chase Koch, 39, mostly talked about Market Based Management, the business theory that his father has developed and installed at Koch Industries. But it was his insights about being raised a Koch that drew the most response from the audience.
Chase Koch said that, decades ago, his father insisted that his young children learn his libertarian brand of economics. Chase Koch laughs about it now and was obviously comfortable talking about his father’s parenting.
“Every Sunday, we’d have economics and philosophy lessons,” Chase Koch said. “This dates back to when I was 6 years old. My father would take my sister and I back, and we’d listen to books on tape from Milton Friedman, Frederick Hayek.
“Can you imagine?” he said to laughter from the audience.
At age 15, his father sent him off to his first summer job – at the company’s then-feedlot in Syracuse in western Kansas.
“I remember driving to Syracuse, and about five miles away, you can smell it,” Chase Koch said.
“I show up, and for the rest of the summer, I’m digging post holes and shoveling you-know-what for my 55,000 best friends.”
It was rough, he said, but he learned a critical life lesson about the importance of hard work, just as his father intended.
“I hated Koch Industries at the time,” Chase Koch said. “That was my first exposure to it, but I look back, and it was an absolutely pivotal point in my life.”
It wasn’t inevitable that he would climb the ladder at Koch. He went to college at Texas A&M and upon graduation moved to Austin to work and play music, but eventually he felt he was wasting his future. His parents weren’t grooming him to take over, it just happened naturally.
“It took me until I was 25 or 26 to realize that ‘You’re an idiot if you don’t go back to Koch’ and really capture that opportunity to go learn, and stop screwing around in Austin, Texas,” he said.
“I love Austin, Texas, but it was time for me to come home.”
It was then that all those Sunday lessons started to make sense.
“It wasn’t until my late 20s that I basically started caring about the concepts and then thinking how I see the tie between how different societies and countries work and don’t work,” he said.
“And why Koch Industries has grown and why I need to do things differently. … It’s an every day learning experience with Market Based Management.”
After his talk, his father, Charles, lauded his son for his concise explanation of Market Based Management.
“I thought he captured it pretty well in a limited period of time,” Charles Koch said. “Now, if I’d been up there, my wife would have given me the hook ’cause I would have gone on for two hours, so he did great.”