A man who, by FORBES’ careful measure, is one of the 50 most powerful people in the world, one of the 20 wealthiest–and one of the dozen most vilified–is perpetually in a position to reflect. But given it’s Charles Koch’s 77th birthday, the calendar demands it. Especially with the presidential election that Charles has called “the mother of all wars” less than a week away, and with Koch Industries, the firm he has built into the second-largest private company in America, considering several more big acquisitions, including an 18,000-employee automotive glassmaker, Guardian Industries.
Yet despite all these momentous events swirling around his wood-paneled Wichita office, decorated with seascapes and looking out on to the prairie to the north, the legacy he wishes to initially address comes via a piece of paper with a color photograph of his first grandson. The baby’s name: Charles. “My proudest accomplishment,” he smiles.
Given that he and his brother have been called “pigs” (by MSNBC host Chris Matthews) and protesters have unfurled “Koch Kills” banners at rallies, Charles clearly wants to use this rare interview to humanize himself, attaching some personal substance to his courtly Midwest manner. Yet this grandfatherly presence, framed by an unbuttoned collared shirt and a toothy grin, is at odds with the business and political juggernaut that he and his younger brother David have built in a systematic process befitting their MIT training.