The Other Koch Brother

In the shadow of his brothers' Tea Party fame, Bill Koch seems almost like a normal billionaire.

"He [Koch] embraced the whole green concept," says Paula Zagrecki, who was the 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. He 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."

PRNewsFoto/Palm Beach High School Foundation, Kim Sargent; © Sargent Photography
Bill Koch celebrates the America’s Cup victory in San Diego.
Portofsandiego.org
Bill Koch celebrates the America’s Cup victory in San Diego.

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 the boss 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," she says, "because he would definitely question you."

Sometimes, he would lose his temper. "It's his company. If he wanted to yell at you because you screwed up a $100 million investment, I think that's his right," Zagrecki says.

Meanwhile, his personal life had a habit of upstaging his professional accomplishments. In 1992, he won the nation's most prestigious sailing competition, the America's Cup. He spent $68 million to assemble the best team and build a faster boat, and sailed with the crew as a novice. Later, he would credit his "T3 philosophy for success—talent, teamwork, and technology." However, he was criticized in the press for the tax breaks he received for contributing to the foundation that funded his win.

Then, in 1994, as his legal battle with his brothers raged on, Vanity Fair wrote a profile labeling him "Wild Bill," the black sheep of the family. The insults may have come from his brothers, but Bill didn't help his own cause. "I could be a really nasty shit," he said in the article. "I would go up to my secretary [and say], 'You dumb shit, why'd you make that mistake?' I was that kind of guy."

A wine lover, he started a collection of 40,000 bottles worth more than $12 million, keeping them in a climate-controlled cellar with a computer system designed to locate every vintage. He also collected fine art and Western memorabilia—Renoir, Rodin, Jesse James's gun, General Custer's rifle.

His appetite for women was easily as voracious as his love of wine. In 1995—a year after he got married—he tried to evict his mistress, an elegant, blond former model named Catherine de Castelbajac, from a condo he owned at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston. Castelbajac refused to leave, and filed a palimony suit, claiming Koch had promised to support her financially for the rest of her life. Soon, the embarrassing details of the geeky billionaire's love life emerged in a Boston courtroom. Jurors learned that Bill was seeing three other women aside from Castelbajac (including his first wife, Joan Granlund, and a girlfriend, Marie Beard, with whom he would have a daughter). Koch and Castelbajac exchanged lurid love notes via fax, such as one Castelbajac signed, "Hot Love from Your X-rated Protestant Princess." When jurors finally ordered Castelbajac to leave the apartment, they didn't sympathize with either party. "Neither of them is a prize," mechanic William Tracia Jr. told the Boston Globe.

In 1996, Koch, then 56, married his second wife, Angela, who was nearly 18 years younger than him. That was a stormy relationship, too.

One evening in July 2000, police were called to the Kochs' summer home in Cape Cod. Angela alleged that Bill had punched her in the stomach while she held their one-year-old daughter. The cops issued a restraining order against him, and for a few months he was banished to their beach house—a cottage that's separate from their main mansion on Palm Beach.

In the divorce fight that followed, Angela and Bill accused each other, according to court documents, of having drinking problems. She complained that he fired her favorite chef and the nanny. He hired private detectives to trail her in Palm Beach.

Eventually, they reached a settlement that gave Angela a lump sum of $16 million, in addition to child support payments. The deal, outlined in Palm Beach Circuit Court documents, was to be "null and void" unless the domestic violence case against Bill in Massachusetts was dismissed. As the lawyers finalized the terms of the deal in December 2000, Angela refused to testify in the case, and the prosecutor dropped the criminal assault and battery charge against Koch.

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