Kochland: A book review by Bob Morris

Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America
Christopher Leonard
Simon & Schuster (August 2019)

One of Charles Koch’s greatest skills: “analyzing and mitigating risk” in order to achieve long-term success

Until reading this book, I knew very little about Koch (pronounced “Koke”) Industries, founded by Fred Koch in 1940. After his sudden death in 1967, his son Charles succeeded him and remains chairman and CEO of what has since become one of the largest, most profitable, and most secretive corporations throughout the world. CK’s personal net worth is now at least $60-billion, probably more.

Christopher Leonard spent more than seven years completing the research that generated the information and insights found in this lively narrative. He provides answers to questions such as these:

What is Charles Koch’s business philosophy?
What have been the greatest influences on its development?
What are the nature and extent of Koch Industries’ corporate power?
How to succeed within the Koch organization?
What does Charles Koch view as the greatest threats to his and the company’s success?
How has he managed to conceal so much information about himself and KI?
What to expect from “Kochland” and its leader in months and years to come?

These are among the passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Leonard’s coverage:

o Market Based Management (Pages 4, 7, 120, 152-153, 181, and 507-510)
o James Elroy (11-13, 19-21, and 130-133)
o FBI investigation of oil theft by KI (11-17, 26-27, and 242-144)
o Gaugers (15-16, 32-33, 45-49, 128-129, and 132-135)
o Ken Ballen (19-33 and 130-131)

o Charles Koch (28-33, 39-40, 192-193, 369-371,458-461, and 564-574)
o Pine Bend refinery (50-59)
o Bill Koch and his antagonism against CK (99-108, 108-112, 115-120, and 197-199)
o Koch University (120-129)
o Texas (121-141)

o W. Edwards Deming’s influence on CK (122-124)
o KI’s acquisitions strategy (125-127, 198-199, and 224-225)
o KI’s management of toxic pollutants (159-161 and 165-171)
o Ammonia (165-176 and 180-187)

o Georgia-Pacific (307-324, 328-335, 512-514)
o Republican Party positions re cap-and-trade legislation (393-394, 420-422, and 424-425, 442-445, and 451-457)
o Fracking (463-472 and 475-479)
o Border Adjustment Tax (542-551)
o Americans for Prosperity (546-551)

This is not a definitive biography of Charles Koch. Rather, Leonard offers a comprehensive, often compelling analysis of him as a quintessential CEO who has led Koch Industries during the last 50 years. KI is itself an exemplar of the modern global corporation, for better or worse. He and this privately-owned company are interdependent…and representative of ongoing conflicts between free enterprise and governmental oversight.

In months and years to come, Christopher Leonard suggests, we can expect Charles Koch to do everything he can to ensure that “the proper shape of Americans society [is] the shape of Kochland.” He is in no hurry. He measures success on a very long timeline, “on a scale of years, even decades.” And his plan is “still just in its early stages.”

Stay tuned….



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