The Florida Koch: William I. Koch
Bill Koch talks about his collection of American Western frontier memorabilia at the Society of the Four Arts. [Photo: Damon Higgins/The Palm Beach Post/ZUMAPRESS.com]
» Led the opposition to wind power in Nantucket Sound near his summer home
» Famously feuded, until 2001, with his brothers, Koch Industries' Charles and David Koch (both No. 4 on the Forbes 400 with $25 billion), over the fortune they inherited from their father.
» Lately a reliable GOP donor, giving $1 million to the Mitt Romney-supporting Restore Our Future super PAC.
The gallery at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach earlier this year overflowed with a fortune in art and artifacts of the American West — antique firearms, photographs, paintings, a Wells Fargo stagecoach — enough for several museums. One item, the only verified photo of Billy the Kid, cost Koch more than $2 million at auction.
The owner of all is Bill Koch (pronounced coke). Though only a sixth as wealthy as his prominent conservative political donor brothers Charles and David, the Florida Koch isn't short on pocket change. No. 81 on the Forbes 400 with $4 billion, Koch heads West Palm Beach-based industrial products and commodities company Oxbow Carbon, No. 9 on Florida Trend's private companies list. Outside Palm Beach, Koch has achieved fame on several scores. Inside, he's quiet. "I don't think he has the ego that hungers the spotlight," says Dennis Grady, president of the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches. Oxbow, which employs 1,200 companywide, has reportedly fewer than 200 at headquarters. It doesn't even make the Business Development Board's list of the county's 100 largest employers.
Efforts to obtain an interview with Koch were unsuccessful. Mike Jones, outgoing president of the Economic Council, says Koch, like a lot of corporate chiefs with a Palm Beach home, isn't very active in local business activities. But, Jones says, in addition to Oxbow, Koch founded prep school Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches, which ends its first school year in June. "A tremendous asset to relocation efforts," Grady says. Koch put up $50 million to start the school.
And he's a giant to the Four Arts, lending it his post-modern and maritime collections in the past and this year's West exhibition. "It's been wildly received," says Four Arts Executive Vice President and curator Nancy Mato. "This is breaking all records, no doubt about it."