The fifth and sixth richest individuals on the planet are worth almost $100 billion combined, and despite some of the controversy surrounding them, there is something we all can learn from them.
Charles and David Koch are the two brothers at the helm of Koch Industries, one of the largest conglomerates in the United States. Each has a 42% stake in the company, and Bloomberg estimates they are each worth $49.5 billion.
They were raised in Wichita, Kansas, and both attended the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology for undergraduate and graduate school, earning degrees in engineering. Ultimately, they returned home to Wichita to run the business their father created.
What Koch Industries does
Koch Industries is private and operates a variety of companies, from Flint Hills Resources that operates oil refineries in Minnesota, Texas, and Alaska that are capable of producing 670,000 barrels of oil a day, to Georgia-Pacific, which creates popular home goods products like Brawny, Angel Soft, and Dixie. In addition, there is Invista, which makes fabrics and products used in clothing and beyond, and Molex, which manufacturers a variety of industrial products.
Altogether, these and the other businesses at Koch are scattered across almost every major industry in the U.S. -- but largely concentrated in commodities -- and have total annual sales of almost $115 billion, which likely makes Koch Industries one of the largest companies few have ever heard of.
Who the brothers are
Much has been written about Charles and David, as each has distinct political leanings that often results in strong criticism from rival parties. The two combine conservative and libertarian leanings -- David was actually the Libertarian Party candidate for vice president in 1980 -- and are ardent critics of "big government."
The two have feuded with President Obama, and The New Yorker even ran an article in 2010 called "Covert Operations" with the byline, "The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama." Some have estimated their political donations are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and that is only likely to continue into the next presidential election.
Yet not only have they had political battles, but familial ones as well. In 1980, their two other brothers, Bill and Frederick, attempted to take control of Koch Industries from Charles. Although Bill and Frederick sold their stake in the company to the two other brothers for $1.1 billion in 1983, a 15-year fight in the courtrooms erupted, and the courts finally sided with David and Charles.
What we can learn
The first lesson we can learn is diversification. Almost every investor should ensure their personal retirement portfolio includes a major stake in an S&P 500 index fund, which is one of the most diverse fund on the market, and encompasses numersous industries and companies.
Consider the Warren Buffett wisdom, "if your goal is not to manage money to earn a significantly better return than the world, then I believe in extreme diversification," which is certainly evident in the business model of Koch Industries.
Beyond diversity, the two brothers have operated with a distinct long-term vision and focused on ensuring the prolonged success of the business.
Being privately held allows them to make moves that focus on the long-term vision, ensuring it is run efficiently and profitably. All too often, both investors and decision-makers lose sight of long-term results in favor of short-term gains.
The Koch brothers have generated an extreme amount of attention as a result of their political endeavors, but no matter where you side in relation to them, there is no denying their business successes are things we can all learn from.