Forbes last week released its list of the world’s richest women and, no surprise, Arkansas’ Alice Walton was on the list. The Walmart Inc. heir and founder of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville came in at No. 2 with a net worth of $65.3 billion.
No. 1 was Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, granddaughter of the founder of cosmetics behemoth L’Oréal. Her worth was pegged at $74.8 billion.
But what some may be surprised to learn is that another woman on the list, Julia Koch, has Arkansas ties.
Koch, with a net worth of $60 billion, putting her at No. 3 on the list, is the widow of philanthropist David Koch, who died in 2019. Her children, as Forbes noted, own a 42% stake in Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the United States.
Although Julia Koch, then Julia Flesher, spent her early years in Iowa, her family moved to Conway when she was 8, and Julia graduated from the University of Central Arkansas.
A 1998 New York Times Magazine article detailing Julia Koch’s New York society debut at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual benefit for its Costume Institute described how her parents, Margaret and Frederic, opened a high-end women’s clothing store in Conway, Peggy Frederic’s, which was sold in 1984.
‘’It was a beautiful, beautiful shop,’’ Julia Koch told the Times. “Julia and her sister, Jolene, worked there and loved poring over the fashion magazines from New York. ‘I mean, nobody in Arkansas would get Women’s Wear Daily,’ Julia says, ‘and I would be reading it.’”
After graduating from UCA, Julia Koch moved to New York, eventually landing a job with designer Adolfo, who clothed the likes of First Lady Nancy Reagan.
The then-Julia Flesher met David Koch on a blind date in 1991, which did not go well. A second meeting six months later went better, and the couple were married in May 1996.
There are other Arkansas links: Julia Koch’s brother, CPA Greg Flesher, is a partner at Frost PLLC of Little Rock.
And there is yet another Koch connection to the state, one regular readers of Arkansas Business know well. David Koch’s older brother Charles is an investor in Standard Lithium Ltd., which is working to source lithium from bromine deposits in south Arkansas. Lithium is a key ingredient in batteries used in cellphones, computers, airplanes and, increasingly, electric vehicles.
Charles Koch is also chairman of Koch Industries, from which Julia Koch derives her wealth.
These days, news reports say, Julia Koch, who is president of the David H. Koch Foundation, spends most of her time at homes in Southampton on Long Island and Palm Beach, Florida, and is looking to sell her $60 million, 18-room duplex at 740 Park Ave. in New York.