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Billionaire businessman David Koch dead at 79

Billionaire businessman and major conservative donor David Koch has died. He was 79. New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer first tweeted news of his death on Friday morning. Details of his death are not yet known, but it’s been reported that the younger Koch brother had been in poor health.

Last year Koch had stepped away from his role at Koch Industries, the multinational corporation run by his older brother Charles in Kansas. He also left the board of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a conservative political advocacy group funded by the Koch brothers.

According to Forbes, David Koch was the 11th richest man in the world with a net worth of some $42 billion. But despite holding leadership roles at the massive global conglomerate Koch Industries, David was best known for his political activism supporting conservative and libertarian policies since the 1980s. He’s used his billions throughout the years to support policies, foundations, and think tanks that promote small government and free market ideals.

Koch himself launched an unsuccessful bid in 1980 for Vice President on the Libertarian Party ticket as running mate with Ed Clark. They received roughly 1% of the vote. Koch has been targeted by Democratic politicians like President Obama for his involvement in politics, accusing Koch of buying elections and having too much influence on American policy and legislation.

Ahead of 2018’s midterm elections Koch aides pledged to spend an eye-popping $400 million to help secure victory for Republicans, including a $20 million pledge to shore up support for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

David Koch was also known for his philanthropy, with the brothers donating over $1 billion throughout the years to causes including medical research, higher education, and public television, among other initiatives. In 2014, Koch pledged to donate $1 million to the September 11 Memorial and Museum.

Businessman David Koch arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala Benefit celebrating the opening of "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" in Upper Manhattan, New York May 5, 2014.  REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES  - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT FASHION BUSINESS HEADSHOT)
Businessman David Koch arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala Benefit celebrating the opening of "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" in Upper Manhattan, New York May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT FASHION BUSINESS HEADSHOT)

The Koch legacy

Though Koch is best known for his foray into American politics, it is his involvement in business through Koch Industries that David has touched most American lives.

“In fact, this really is one of the most important companies in the United States,” “Kochland” author Charles Leonard said recently on Yahoo Finance. “Koch Industries’ annual sales are larger than that of Facebook, Goldman Sachs, and U.S. Steel combined. And it’s not just the size of the company, I think, that makes it important; it’s the scope of what it does.”

With a valuation of roughly $140 billion, the sprawling conglomerate controls subsidiaries in the manufacturing, refining, and distribution of various energy resources, such as petroleum and chemicals. Its prodigious reach has ensured that, for nearly four decades, Koch Industries has entered the lives of countless Americans.

“This company specializes in the kind of stuff that underpins civilization,” said Leonard. “Fuel, fertilizer, building materials; it really touches everybody’s life.”

An entrepreneurial spirit

Born in 1940 in Wichita, Kansas, David is the third of four sons born to Fred C. Koch and his wife Mary. He followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming an engineer, earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He joined Koch Industries under his older brother Charles in 1970, opening their New York office and later becoming president of its engineering division.

Both David and Charles Koch – known colloquially as the Koch brothers – shared an entrepreneurial spirit, fostered by their father, after whom the company is named.

“When you talk about the business and how it became what it is today, this is a company that, back in even the ‘70s and ‘80s, realized the most important resource they dealt with wasn’t gas, or coal, or cattle – it was information,” Leonard said. “This is a company that’s big into trading, and their strategy is to try to know more about the world than their competitors and to trade on that advantage.”

That hunger for information remains a central part of Koch Industries’ business strategy, and often permeates the brothers’ political motivations.

“Politically, along with that long-term strategic view, [the Koch brothers] have very firm ideas about limited government, free-market economics, and you’ve seen that in their leadership since the seventies, as well,” Leonard said.

Koch is survived by his wife Julia, and their three children, Mary, David Jr., and John.

Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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