Koch also finds inspiration in his Kansas roots. The Flint Hills—a beautiful stretch of hilly prairie in south-central Kansas that, in a certain light, resembles a storm-tossed ocean—moved him to name his most recent yacht Kanza. Koch flew six members of the Kansa tribe, whose name means "people of the south wind," to San Diego for the boat's christening.
As for the feud, Koch says he would welcome a truce: "I've tried to speak to Charles half a dozen times over the past 10 years or so. I tried to shake his hand at our mother's funeral, but he just walked away. He has become quite emotional about all of this." David, he says, has been civil—which explains Bill's standing offer that they make up and go sailing together. "In Kansas," Bill says, "they've got a saying: 'If you're going out for revenge, dig two graves. One for your enemy and one for yourself.' And I don't want to do that. Revenge is not productive."
Productivity matters to Koch; he is, after all, an entrepreneur, a man who owns geothermal electric plants, commercial real estate and assorted high-tech enterprises. At Oxbow Corporation—an alternative-energy company in Palm Beach. Fla., that he founded after selling his Koch Industries shares—and in America�, Koch sees his managerial forte as "bringing all the pieces together, putting the right people in the right spots and letting them do their thing."
"Bill's not looking over your shoulder every two minutes," says helmsman Melges. "He gives you the kind of freedom that a person likes to have, freedom to excel at the highest level."
Koch is a self-described "contrarian," but he seems genuinely pained and embarrassed by the family feud and determined not to let it infect the rest of his life. "You might say I've tried to create my own family out here," he says, "an organization where I have good brother relationships rather than bad ones."
Ever the engineer, Koch has tried to quantify this concept. He grades his team members on Attitude, Teamwork and Talent, assigning a number from 1 to 10 for each attribute. "People had to have a 9 or 10 in the first two categories to get on the boat," he says. Talent, surprisingly, is secondary: "You don't have to have all stars to have a winning team."
To underscore this point, Koch likes to use the example of his college basketball team, the mighty MIT Engineers. When Bill and David were freshmen, the slide-rule-wielding varsity won only three games. The next year, when the Kochs were elevated to the varsity and new head coach Jack Barry was brought in, the Engineers...lost all but one game. "We were just not good basketball players," Bill recalls. "We had only one player who could have made the varsity on any other team in the nation, and that was my brother."
The payoff, of course, is that Koch et al. won more than half their games as juniors, and as seniors they had, at one point, the longest winning streak in the country (15 games). "What the coach did is that he organized the team to compensate for every-body's weaknesses." says Koch. "One guy couldn't dribble, so [Barry] said, 'You just stand here.' Another guy could shoot from outside but not inside, so he said, 'O.K., your job is shooting over here.' He divided the team up to maximize the guys' strengths, and then he emphasized complete teamwork and instilled in us the attitude that we MIT nerds could win. That's been a powerful lesson to me and one that I'm adapting now for the America's Cup."
Teamwork is fine, Koch's critics say, but you can carry it too far. Koch waited until just last week to decide which of his two boat crews he would use against Stars & Stripes in the defender finals. He has been just as reluctant to settle on a helmsman. (The running joke is that Koch's boat is being driven by Will Vary.) During round three of the defender series, America� had three helmsmen per race: tactician Dellenbaugh on the starting line, then Melges and Koch taking turns out on the course. Early in the semis, Koch and Dellenbaugh moved between boats as a team; Koch shared the driving with Melges on Kama and with Kimo Worthington on America�. By the end of the semis, Koch, Melges and Worthington were alternating at the helm according to wind conditions. Stars & Stripes, meanwhile, always has Conner at the helm. And if Koch gets past Conner, he'll face another superstar helmsman in the America's Cup finals—cither Paul Cayard ( Italy) or Rod Davis ( New Zealand).
All true, says Koch, but he has the genie in the bottle: technology. More than any other campaign in Cup history, Koch's is science driven, steeped in tank and wind-tunnel tests, computer models and material innovations. Conner tried to buy Koch's Matador technology before Koch decided to mount a Cup campaign, and so did several other aspiring defenders. Koch's innovations keep coming—keel and hull shapes, new hardware configurations and now a possible breakthrough in sail technology: a lightweight sailcloth made of carbon fiber, liquid crystals and high-density, high-molecular-weight polymers.