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Former American Family Insurance chairman, CEO dies at age 90

Former American Family Insurance chairman, CEO dies at age 90

Robert W. Koch is remembered as a courageous and visionary leader for American Family Insurance.

Koch, 90, a native of Madison and former AFI president, chairman and CEO, died Saturday.

“He helped transform the company in many positive ways, including product growth, geographic expansion, and a name change, said current president, chairman and CEO Jack Salzwedel, in a news release. “His leadership ensured a strong and viable company long after he had retired.”

Koch had a great ability to connect with agents and employees, Salzwedel said. And he knew everyone’s names – including family members, said Larry Anderson, an American Family agent in Sun Prairie. “He was the most down to earth CEO, but he still helped grow the company into the great company it is today,” Anderson said.

After graduating from high school, Koch served as a military police officer in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army.

Following graduation from UW-Madison in 1948, he started at American Family as an underwriter, launching a 41-year career. In December 1951, he became head of the life department. In 1953, he moved to the agency department as sales personnel manager, helping develop the company’s exclusive agency plan.

In 1957, Koch was selected to head Farmers Mutual’s new life insurance venture – American Family Life Insurance Co. (AFLIC). Under his leadership, the life company became one of the nation’s fastest-growing life insurance companies.

He became AFLIC vice president in 1959 and president in 1968. In 1977, he became president of the American Family Insurance Group. Five years later, he was elected as the third chairman and CEO in the company’s history.

During his tenure, the company rose from one of the 20 largest insurers in Wisconsin in 1948 as Farmers Mutual, to one of the 20 largest property-casualty companies in the nation as American Family. In the late 1980s, he was instrumental in acquiring land and planning for American Family’s national headquarters expansion of the American Center.

Koch married Phyllis Voegeli in 1950 at St. Raphael Cathedral in Madison. They were married for 64 years. Together, they raised three children, Bill, Jim (Rebecca), and Ellen (John) Franzini. He also had six grandchildren, Emily (Steve Hamm) Koch, Brandon (Claire) Koch, Ella Koch, Susan Franzini, Paul Franzini and Michael Franzini, as well as two great-grandchildren, Madeline Hamm and Miles Koch.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, 602 Everglade Drive, with Father Bart Timmerman presiding. A visitation will be from 9 a.m. until the time of the Mass on Thursday at the church.

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