The Winds of War
Two weeks ago, Koch—a West Palm Beach millionaire with maximum technological know-how and minimal sailing experience—turned the yachting world around with a decisive win over Conner, who has skippered the last four Cup matches. By then Koch had appeased the natives by promising to leave the cup at the San Diego Yacht Club—if he beats the Italian syndicate in the Cup finals beginning this week. Koch is confident, despite being outspent by the Italians $230 million to $65 million. "I'm just a kid from Kansas who's only sailed for seven years," he says, "and we've just knocked off the best sailor in the world."
A gangly 6'5", Koch is one of four sons of Fred C. Koch, who invented a process for increasing the yield of gasoline from crude oil. After earning three degrees in chemical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bill joined his family business in Wichita, Kans., in 1974, then sold his shares to his brothers for $550 million in 1980. Moving to West Palm Beach, where he lives in a modest three-bedroom house with his wife, Joan, and their son, Wyatt, 5, Koch started his own alternative-energy company—and took up sailing in 1984. But it wasn't until the following year, after consulting with MIT buddies to find out "why the boats that were fast were fast," that he began winning.
"You don't have to be the best sailor in the world," says Koch, explaining his defeat of Conner. "You just have to be able to use your will and intellect to give you a clear focus." Of course, it doesn't hurt to have $65 million handy, either.