William Ingraham "Bill" Koch

May 3, 1940 -

Wichita, Kansas

While Bill Koch holds a PhD in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he could easily have been a philosopher. He has a way of boiling things down to the simplest terms, “The boat that is going to win is the one that makes the fewest mistakes.” He continued, “Making no mistakes is a function of teamwork, not star power, but team power.” After a particularly poor blunder-filled race, Koch held a meeting of his America’s Cup team. Koch had a list of 28 errors to review. In front of the whole squad, helmsman Buddy Melges said he wanted to lead the meeting. Koch resisted until Melges declared, “There were 28 errors, and I made 25 of them.” Koch relented, “Buddy you have the floor.” Koch’s team went on to success in the 1992 America’s Cup.

One of the keys to that victory was Koch’s pursuit of using innovative hydrodynamic and aerodynamic technology to build a breakthrough design. The team was driven by the art of sailing as much as the science of sailing. Koch says, “When you put the artist in the scientist’s job, and then you put the scientist in the artist’s job, they get great respect for how difficult the other person’s job is.” Koch understood the science while Buddy Melges sailed with a great intuitive sense. The combination gave their team the edge in the trials, and in the cup final against Italy.

Building his winning crew was the culmination of nine years of racing in the International Maxi Class. His Matador 2 was a breakthrough design that dominated the highly competitive Maxi circuit in 1990. That successful campaign inspired Koch to take on the America’s Cup. It wasn’t easy since he had to defeat four-time Cup winner Dennis Conner on his home waters off San Diego just to get into the Cup match. Three short years later, Koch sponsored an all-women’s team that brought recognition of the skill level of women’s sailing in the U.S. In the mid-2000s, he started racing 12 Metres and won the World Championship in 2009. He grew up in Kansas and started sailing on a lake near the Culver Academy in Indiana before heading off to MIT.

Koch has run a very successful energy company, Oxbow Corporation. He has been an important financial contributor to many sailing organizations including: The US Olympic Sailing Team, sailing centers in Kansas, Newport, Massachusetts, and Florida, the Herreshoff Marine Museum, the Sea Scouts, US Sailing, and the National Sailing Hall of Fame. Koch is a prolific collector of marine art and artifacts. He recently published a definitive eight-volume set of books titled The Holy Grail of Yachting: The Art of the America’s Cup.

— Gary Jobson

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