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Bill attended high school at Culver Military Academy in Indiana, then joined Charles and David at MIT, dutifully following in their dad's footsteps. Bill eventually earned a PhD in chemical engineering. Frederick Koch studied English and drama at Harvard and Yale and grew up to become a reclusive art collector who buys European castles, including homes in Monaco and London.
After their father passed away in 1967, Charles took over the family business, and the strains between him and Bill increased. Bill came to work for Koch Industries as a consultant in the early '70s, but Charles wasn't happy with his job performance. "He never seemed to get any self-respect out of what he was doing and always wanted to be doing something else," Charles told the Times. (Through a spokesperson, Charles and David Koch declined to be interviewed for this article.)
Bill was angry that company money was spent on his brothers' political causes. "Why should I donate all my money to the Libertarian Party?" he said. "Pretty soon we would get the reputation that the company and the Kochs were crazy."
But Charles Koch was a brilliant businessman. Under his leadership, Koch Industries became the second-largest company in America. In addition to its oil refineries, it owns Brawny paper towels, Lycra fiber, and Georgia-Pacific lumber.
In 1979, the Koch brothers celebrated their last Christmas together. The next year, Bill tried unsuccessfully to seize control of the board of Koch Industries. An epic legal battle followed. Bill sued Charles and David for corporate mismanagement. They fired back with a libel suit. In 1983, Bill and Fred Koch sold their shares of the company to Charles and David, and Bill walked away with $470 million. But two years later, after his bankers crunched the numbers, Bill decided he'd gotten a raw deal. He sued again, demanding more money. For nearly two decades, his lawsuits against his brothers piled up. Things got ugly. At one point, Bill subpoenaed his elderly mother to testify a few months after she had a stroke. He also filed a whistleblower suit accusing Koch Industries of stealing crude oil from Native American lands that would drag on for years.
Bill stopped speaking to Charles and David. "I don't want to see my brothers in jail," Bill told Fortune in 1997. "But I'm at war."
The corporate Christmas party was the most lavish Ron Brosh had ever seen. Men arrived at the Four Seasons Hotel in Palm Beach wearing tuxedos, the women in long, shimmering dresses. Plates were piled high with filet mignon, and at least 200 guests gleefully descended on an open bar. "This is hands-down the greatest company event that I've ever been to in my life," Brosh remembers. "You thought you'd won an award."
It was the late '90s, and Bill Koch's company could afford to lavish such extravagance on its employees. In 1983, he used the initial millions from selling his shares of Koch Industries to start his own energy company, Oxbow Corp. He founded the company in Massachusetts, but after battling the state over taxes on a stock purchase, he got fed up and moved Oxbow to West Palm Beach in 1989. Here, Oxbow, like individuals and many other large corporations in Florida, does not have to pay state income taxes. "That's the reason I came here — it's tax-friendly," he told the St. Petersburg Times in 2003.
Initially, Oxbow made its mark as a more environmentally friendly energy company than Koch Industries. Oxbow built and financed geothermal power plants in the United States, Costa Rica, and the Philippines in the '90s, when the federal government was providing subsidies for green power.
"He [Koch] embraced the whole green concept," says Paula Zagrecki, who was finance director for international renewable energy projects at Oxbow from 1995 to 2000.
Zagrecki remembers Koch as a detail-oriented boss who was a "really personable, smart guy." He hired intelligent people, paid them well, relocated them to Florida, and rewarded them with bonuses. "He's really the opposite of what you expect from a billionaire," she says.
Brosh, an actor who was a financial analyst for Oxbow in the late '90s, is even more effusive. His says Koch's generosity to his employees changed the way Brosh viewed wealthy people. "With Bill Koch, I always felt that I got better than I gave," he says. "For me, that was a real life lesson."
Koch attended happy hours on Clematis Street, dancing with his underlings and listening to them sing on his birthday. Once, the billionaire hosted a work barbecue at his newly built mansion. Brosh gaped at the valuable Western art collection on the walls, the "piles and piles of the best steak," the two swimming pools, and the way Koch welcomed hundreds of guests into his home. "He was opening up his world that much to us," Brosh says.
At Oxbow, Koch installed a state-of-the-art gym and made his personal trainers available to employees for free. Several times, Zagrecki says, she'd find herself huffing and puffing on the StairMaster next to the boss. "He was kind of very normal," she says.
Yet he set a high standard. Koch's car would be first in the office parking lot by 7 a.m., Brosh says. If Zagrecki had to meet with him, she knew to be prepared. "There was definitely an expectation that you better have all the ducks lined up in a row... because he would definitely question you."