The Family Business

The Family Business

Sic Parvis Magna, roughly translated from the Latin, is “great things arise from small beginnings.” It was the personal motto of English explorer and sea captain Sir Francis Drake, but it serves equally well as the motto for Koch Insurance, a five-office agency headquartered in Tyndall, S.D., started in 1953 by Royal Koch.

“My dad and mother met in college,” says Marty Koch, 62, who started out making $6 an hour working for Royal, his father, nearly four decades ago, and now heads the firm. “My mother was from Tyndall, and when mother and dad graduated, her parents let them know that there was a little agency for sale in town. They bought it, and Royal said that the first week they were in business, he made 25 cents.”

Doing well by doing good

An underwhelming start? Perhaps. But Tyndall had what they were looking for: a strong sense of community and an opportunity to serve friends and neighbors — not just when they had a claim, but when they needed advice like how to save money, how to protect their assets, and how to keep safe the most important thing of all: family.

“Dad was a Rotarian,” Marty Koch says. “And the Rotary motto is ‘Service above self.’ ”

If that philosophy sounds altruistic, the Koch family has found that it makes sound business sense, too. And if that sounds like doing well by doing good, that’s because it is. Royal, Marty, and now — nearly 70 years since Royal first hung out his shingle — three of Marty’s children have found that seeing to their community's insurance needs has enabled them not merely to survive past those early quarter-a-week years, but to thrive. It’s a virtuous circle: close family bonds make the business run, and the business makes it possible to keep close family bonds.

It’s about family

“I built a house right next door to Royal and mom,” Marty says. “And when my kids were growing up, they went there every day after school. They’d come home with cookie crumbs around their mouths, so I knew that grandpa was ruining their supper with Oreos.

“Now three of my kids live on the same street I live on. My daughter Kate is a schoolteacher; my son Drew is kind of a jack-of-all-trades in our business. And my other son, Austin, is building a house two doors down.”

Another daughter, Courtney, heads the firm’s office in Tea, a growing suburb of Sioux Falls. All told, Koch Insurance serves around 1,400 clients with offices — in addition to Tyndall and Tea — in Springfield, Tabor, and Yankton.

“I would say we’re between 50 and 60 percent crop and farm insurance,” Marty says, “With 10 percent [comprising] some commercial, some health and life, and the rest personal lines. Our offices in Tyndall, Tabor, and Springfield mostly write farm policies; at our office in Yankton, it’s about 90 percent home and auto. Courtney is doing more commercial business in Tea, which has the fastest growing market. Tea is like the old 'Leave It to Beaver’ show: pretty much every house is new.”

Koch Insurance began its partnership with Grinnell Mutual in the early ’90s, when the firm’s previous carrier went bust, and the company needed help.

“We’ve been with Grinnell Mutual ever since,” Marty says. “We love the fact that we can pick up the phone and get right in touch with your underwriters.”

Marty’s son Austin agrees. “We have great relationships at Grinnell Mutual,” he says. “If I pick up the phone and ask a favor, I know if there’s any way they can help out, they will. When you’ve got good people that you get along with, things just turn out well.”

In other words, it’s like working with family.