What does it take to be rich?
Peter Drucker once said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” And author Michael J. Gelb wrote, “You can change your life by changing the way you think about yourself and your potential.”
What does it take to be one of the richest and most successful people in the world? How do you get to the top? And once you’re there — how do you stay at the top?
Today’s guest on The School of Greatness knows a thing or two about that. Charles Koch is one of the richest people in the world and CEO and chairman of one of the largest privately held American companies, Koch Industries, with over 130,000 employees. He is also an influential philanthropist and has been for more than 50 years. He supports education and helps organize groups that research solutions to poverty and other big social issues, and he’s founded numerous non-profits, including Stand Together.
Charles learned to self-actualize early in life, and his wealthy mindset has carried him extremely far. That’s why today he has a passion for giving back and showing others how to maximize their success by maximizing their mindsets. He’s working hard to give back, and he has a lot of wisdom to share about staying positive and humble and managing fear.
I had such a great time consuming the wealth of knowledge that he had to share, and I can’t wait for you guys to hear it as well. We have a lot of similar ideas around mindset and how to be your most successful self, and we discussed a lot of topics that he wrote about in his new book Believe in People: Bottom-Up Solutions for a Top-Down World. I know you’re going to enjoy this episode — I know I did!
Charles Koch is the business mastermind behind Koch Industries. He’s been the co-owner, chairman, and CEO since the company’s founding in 1967. Koch Industries is the company behind an incredible number of well-known brands, including Stainmaster carpet, Quilted Northern tissue, and Dixie Cups.
Charles is also a prolific and highly influential philanthropist. He has dedicated much of his time to maintaining the legacy of the Koch Family Foundation, a charitable organization that provides grants and scholarships to students and promising young artists. Charles is also a regular contributor to various political movements and organizations, including the Republican Party and the Cato Institute, a Libertarian think tank in Washington D.C.
In addition to being a widely-known businessman and philanthropist, Charles is a dedicated family man. He’s been married to his wife, Liz, since 1972, and together they have two children, Chase and Elizabeth Koch. Charles has also had a longstanding business partnership with his late brother, David Koch, who served as the Executive Vice President of Koch Industries.
I truly enjoyed my conversation with Charles. He has so much wisdom to share, and I’m grateful to him for joining me on this very special episode of The School of Greatness!
In our conversation, we dove deep into how you can reach your highest potential. We discussed the tools and strategies that have helped Charles make it to the top — most importantly, how he discovered and uses his unique gifts. We also talked about the power of contributing to society and how to develop a wealthy mindset. And finally, we discussed the real meaning to bottom-up empowerment and the importance of empowering your people to succeed.
This conversation is informative, inspiring, and endlessly interesting! I know you’re going to love it, so let’s jump in!
Charles has a strong central tenant that drives everything that he does: His responsibility is to contribute to making the world a better place, and the world only gets better when we’re all using our unique gifts to contribute in some way.
“Central to our philosophy is that everyone has a gift. … What we try to do is go find those people to solve a problem … and then back them and combine our capabilities with theirs to enable them to do even more, to help even more people. … It requires believing in yourself, believing in other people, … having them realize that no one’s good at everything — we’re all just good at a few things, so we need to partner with people who have complementary capabilities.” – Charles Koch
Everyone has a gift that they should be using to contribute, so it makes sense that the first step is discovering what our own gifts are. This is the process of self-actualization — realizing who you are, what gifts you have, and how you can use those gifts to contribute.
Charles started his own self-actualization journey when he was in the third grade:
“I was in the third grade, and the teacher was putting math problems on the board. And it’s amazing what you remember — that is an ‘aha’ moment. And I say to myself, ‘Why is she putting those problems on the board? The answers are obvious.’ And I look around the room, and they aren’t obvious to anybody else. And so that was the starting point in discovering my gift.” – Charles Koch
At a young age, Charles discovered that he has a gift for numbers. He is excellent at using math and other abstract concepts, and he uses that gift to contribute to the world.
What are your gifts? What unique skills do you have that no one else does? You have something that marks you special — I want to encourage you to find out what that is and use it to contribute to your business or community!
Once you discover what your gifts are, Charles recommended finding mentors who can help you learn how to put them to use:
“It’s [about] having mentors … social entrepreneurs who are dedicated to empowering you.” – Charles Koch
Who do you know who does something similar to what you want to do? If you want to start a business, find local business owners to mentor you. If you want to become a podcaster or a public speaker or a coach, find people who have gone before you in those spaces and learn from their knowledge. When you’re empowered, you can then take your gifts into the world and use them to empower others.
I’ve used the word “contribute” a few times already, but I think it’s worth emphasizing. The single most important thing in Charles’ life — the thing that gets him out of bed in the morning — is the hope of contributing to his community and to the world to make it a more just place for all of us. For him, that’s the difference between a wealthy mindset and a poor mindset.
“Those that are wealthy got wealthy because they did a tremendous job of helping others. … What we don’t want is people to get wealthy by rigging the system — by trying to limit innovation, limit competition, all of those things that we see going on in our system. … That’s what we’re against.” – Charles Koch
People who try to rig the system for their own benefit may become financially wealthy for a time, but they lack the real inner wealth that we experience — peace, joy, love, and gratitude. But people who contribute to their communities develop that kind of wealth — financial wealth is an amazing bonus.
Take, for example, the Youth Entrepreneurs program Charles and his wife started in Wichita, Kansas, 30 years ago. They launched a program to help teenagers living in a poor area of Wichita learn business skills, start actual companies, and learn to make money for themselves. Through this program, Charles and his wife have been able to transform lives for the better — and that has, in turn, contributed greatly to their own personal wealth.
Charles told me about one girl they worked with — April — who went on to have great success. April came from a low-income area, her brother had been shot, her mother struggled with addiction, and her sister was in prison. But then she heard about Charles’ program:
“[She said,] ‘I heard about this class where I could get some money. … I’d like to get some money.’ And she said, ‘I got in there, and I found … I’ve got to have a winning business plan and a successful business. So I’ve got to learn to read and write and present. So I better start doing that. And then if I have a business, I’ve got to do math to know what’s working and what’s not. And then … if I want customers and employees, I’ve got to learn to treat them with respect.’ So, she said, ‘It changed my whole life.’” – Charles Koch
The program that Charles and his wife started transformed this girl’s life. It gave her hope, and it helped her earn money, succeed in school, and eventually run a very successful business of her own!
Charles contributed to the world, April took his contribution and used it to continue contributing, and together, they’ve made the world a little bit better. How are you contributing to the world? Do you have a wealthy mindset? I want to encourage you to look for ways that you can contribute. You may not be in a position to launch a full-scale education program for your local high school, but you can do something to help out. Find out what that is, and expect the feelings of true wealth, fulfillment, and joy to come to you!
Charles talks a lot about the concept of top-down business versus bottom-up empowerment, but what does that really mean?
Top-down empowerment is all about having power for yourself and using it to create more wealth for you and only you. It aligns with Charles’ definition of a poor mindset — it’s about rigging the system so that you get the most benefit.
“This is the problem with this top-down stuff: … [We think,] ‘Okay, we know who’s smart and who’s not, and we’re going to give them the authority … and the rest of you just shut up and go do your work, and we’ll feed you some stuff.” – Charles Koch
The bottom-up model, however, is just the opposite. It’s how Charles tries to run his company — it’s about helping to empower people at all levels so that everyone can have the opportunity to contribute to society.
“If I want to contribute, I can’t be doing it all, or I’ll make a mess of it. So I’ve got to go partner with people. … You focus on creating value for others, you focus on bottom-up empowerment, and so that’s what we’ve done with our employees. For example, in our company, the first job of every supervisor at every level, including me, is to help your people.” – Charles Koch
The bottom-up empowerment model looks like empowering the people you lead. If you’re in a supervisor or employer position, it’s you’re just to take care of your people by helping them to self-actualize and then empowering them to use their gifts to contribute.
Everyone’s happier when they’re able to use their gifts and talents. When everyone works together and helps each other to feel empowered to work in their zone of genius, companies run more smoothly, individuals experience more personal fulfillment and growth, and you even generate more wealth for yourself and others!
If you’re a business leader — how are you empowering your employees? Are you encouraging them to use their talents? Or are you pushing them into positions that don’t suit their needs? Encourage those under your leadership to find their unique gifts and use them as much as possible — you’ll create a much more positive work environment and create wealthy mindsets in yourself and your people.
Charles Koch is one of the most impressively wealthy people in the world — but not only because of his money. He has a tremendous amount of wisdom, and he cares deeply about the positive contributions he’s making to society. He has a truly wealthy mindset, and he’s using his gifts to make the world a better place and to empower everyone under his leadership.
I want to acknowledge Charles for the difference he’s making in the world. He is so sincere in his desire to help others, and he’s making a difference in countless lives every day. His consistency, humility, and joy are a genuine inspiration to me, and I look forward to seeing the great work that Charles does in the future!
Before I go, I want to share Charles’ definition of greatness:
“[Frederick] Douglass … had taught himself to read at age eight, and he started teaching others, the other enslaved people, to read. He [said], ‘At last, I found a way to contribute.’ … To me, the greatest people … are those who … have overcome the greatest obstacles and then fight against these kinds of injustices — not to punish those who had commanded them but to have a world where these injustices ceased to exist.” – Charles Koch
Charles is contributing so much to make the world a better place, and I believe he’s truly living up to that definition.
Thank you guys so much for joining me on this episode of The School of Greatness! If you enjoyed it as much as I did, please let me know! You can share a screenshot of this episode on Instagram and tag Charles, @kochindustries, and me, @lewishowes, and tell us what your biggest takeaways from the episode were!
Until next time — remember to empower those around you. When you give others the opportunity to feel empowered, the whole world becomes a better place.