Jon Huntsman, Sr.

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Jon Huntsman, Sr.
Jon Huntsman Sr 2004 Huntsman Award Ceremony.jpg
Jon Huntsman, Sr., 2004, at Chemical Heritage Foundation
BornJon Meade Huntsman
(1937-06-21) June 21, 1937 (age 77)
Blackfoot, Idaho, USA
ResidenceSalt Lake City, Utah, USA
Alma materWharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
USC Marshall School of Business
OccupationFounder & Chairman, Huntsman Corporation
ReligionThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Spouse(s)Karen Haight
RelativesJon (son)
AwardsOthmer Gold Medal (2004)
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For Huntsman's son, former governor, ambassador and 2012 Republican presidential candidate, see Jon Huntsman, Jr..
Jon Huntsman, Sr.
Jon Huntsman Sr 2004 Huntsman Award Ceremony.jpg
Jon Huntsman, Sr., 2004, at Chemical Heritage Foundation
BornJon Meade Huntsman
(1937-06-21) June 21, 1937 (age 77)
Blackfoot, Idaho, USA
ResidenceSalt Lake City, Utah, USA
Alma materWharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
USC Marshall School of Business
OccupationFounder & Chairman, Huntsman Corporation
ReligionThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Spouse(s)Karen Haight
RelativesJon (son)
AwardsOthmer Gold Medal (2004)

Jon Meade Huntsman, Sr. (born June 21, 1937) is an American businessman and philanthropist. He is the founder of the Huntsman Chemical Corporation, the largest manufacturer of polystyrene in the United States. Huntsman plastics are used in a wide variety of familiar objects, including McDonald's clamshell burger containers and L'eggs pantyhose egg shells.[1] Huntsman Corporation also manufactures a wide variety of organic and inorganic chemicals that include polyurethanes, textiles and pigments.[2] Huntsman's philanthropic giving exceeds $1.2 billion, focusing on the areas of cancer research, programs at various universities and aid to Armenia.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Jon Meade Huntsman was born in Blackfoot, Idaho. His mother, Sarah Kathleen (née Robison), was a homemaker and his father, Alonzo Blaine Huntsman, was an educator.[4] In 1950 the family moved to Palo Alto, California, where Alonzo pursued graduate studies at Stanford University, earning an M.A. and Ed.D. He then became a superintendent of schools in the Los Altos, California district.

Jon Huntsman attended Palo Alto High School, where he became student body president. He was recruited by Harold Zellerbach, chairman of Crown-Zellerbach Paper Company, to attend the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania on a Zellerbach scholarship.[5] He graduated from Wharton in the spring of 1959.[6]

Jon Huntsman married Karen Haight, daughter of David B. Haight, in June, 1959. Both are members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In July, 1959, Huntsman left to serve for two years in the U.S. Navy. He subsequently earned an MBA from the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business.

Business career[edit]

Dolco Packaging Corporation[edit]

In 1961 Huntsman was employed by Olson Brothers, Inc., an egg-producing company in Los Angeles.[7] There he rose through the ranks to the position of Vice President of Operations. Recognizing that the company sustained substantial losses due to poor packaging, Huntsman became interested in developing a better alternative. His leadership was key in developing the first plastic egg carton. In 1965 he established contact with the polystyrene operations of the Dow Chemical Co. In 1967 he became president of a joint venture between Olson Brothers, Inc., and Dow Chemical Company, the Dolco Packaging Corporation.[1]

Huntsman Container Corporation[edit]

Seeing an opportunity to create packaging for the emerging fast-food industry, Huntsman left Dolco in 1970 to form the Huntsman Container Corporation with his brother, Blaine, and others in Fullerton, California.[7][8] Plants were constructed in Fullerton, California, in 1971 and in Troy, Ohio, in 1972.[8] Since cash flow was an issue for the new company, Huntsman mortgaged his house and borrowed heavily from banks. In 1973 the company nearly collapsed when an Arab oil embargo cut off supplies of polystyrene, used to make styrofoam.[9]

In 1974 Huntsman Container Corporation created the "clamshell" container for McDonald's Big Mac.[7] The company also developed other popular products, including the first plastic plates, bowls and fast-food containers.[5][8] In 1976, after completion of its first international plant at Skelmersdale, England, a stock deal was arranged to sell Huntsman Container Corporation to Keyes Fiber Company. Huntsman continued to serve as CEO of the container business for four more years and held a directorship of Keyes Fiber Company.[8]

Huntsman Chemical Corporation[edit]

In 1982 Jon Huntsman founded a new company, Huntsman Chemical Corporation, in Salt Lake City, Utah.[10] In his capacity as CEO and Chairman, he grew the business into a multi-billion dollar company, in part by acquiring a number of businesses in the polystyrene industry when they were not seen as profitable. Between 1986 to 2000 Huntsman acquired 36 companies, 35 of which turned out to be hugely profitable.[9]

In 1994 the Huntsman Chemical Corporation was renamed the Huntsman Corporation. In 1996 Peter R. Huntsman became President and COO of Huntsman Corporation. In 2000 he replaced his father as the company’s CEO.[11] Jon M. Huntsman continued to be involved in the company as Chairman.[12]

During the 2000s, Huntsman continued its pattern of expansion, both in America and around the world, and reorganization. Huntsman Corporation became publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange in 2005.[13] As of 2014, Huntsman reported that it operated 80 manufacturing and R&D facilities in 30 countries and employed approximately 12,000 associates.[14]

Huntsman Gay Global Capital[edit]

In 2001 Huntsman announced that his companies could not make their interest payments on junk bonds.[15] In 2007 Huntsman co-founded a new private equity firm, Huntsman Gay Global Capital, joining former Bain Capital executive Robert C. Gay (1989–2004, managing director) to focus on investments in middle market companies.[16][17] Among Huntsman's partners is Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young.[16]

Scientific Awards and Honors[edit]

Huntsman has been awarded thirteen honorary doctorate degrees at various universities.[18] In 2004 he received the Othmer Gold Medal, awarded by the Chemical Heritage Foundation in recognition of contributions in research, innovation, legislation or philanthropy.[19][20][21] In 2013 he received the Leadership Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Chemical Marketing and Economics (CM&E) group.[22]

Personal life[edit]

Huntsman has been married to his wife Karen for more than 50 years. They are the parents of 9 children and have 56 grandchildren, two of whom are adopted from China and India.

On December 8, 1987, Huntsman's son James, then age 16, was kidnapped and held for $1 million ransom by Nicholas Hans Byrd, a former classmate. FBI agents traced the kidnapper and rescued James unharmed, but agent Al Jacobsen was stabbed in the chest during the arrest. [23][24][25]

Huntsmans' second eldest son, Peter R. Huntsman, took over as CEO of the Huntsman Corporation from Huntsman Sr. in 2000.[11]

Huntsmans' eldest son, Jon Huntsman, Jr., also served as a Huntsman Corporation executive. He was elected governor of Utah in 2004, later became ambassador to China, and was a candidate in the Republican Party presidential primaries in 2012.[26]

Jon Huntsman, Sr. has published a book about his life experience, communicating moral lessons. Titled Winners Never Cheat: Everyday Values We Learned as Children (But May Have Forgotten), it was published by Wharton School Publishing in 2005. A second edition, titled Winners Never Cheat: Even in Difficult Times, made the Wall Street Journal '​s best-sellers list.[27]

Huntsman is a four-time cancer survivor.[28]


Huntsman is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served as an Area Seventy from 1996 to 2011. He also served as a regional representative, stake president and as president of the Washington, D.C. Mission from 1980 to 1983.


In 1977 he was chairman of the Western States Republican Leaders.[29] He was also the Republican Party of Utah national committeeman from 1976 to 1980.[29] He is a friend of conservative radio talk show host Glenn Beck and has been interviewed on his show.[30] He is more socially conservative than his son Jon Huntsman, Jr.

Nixon administration[edit]

While the Huntsman Container Corporation's first packaging plant was being built in 1971, Huntsman joined the Nixon Administration as Associate Administrator of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and later served as Special Assistant and Staff Secretary to President Nixon.[29] Upon completion of the second Huntsman Container site in Troy, Ohio, in 1972, Huntsman left the White House staff to become President and CEO of Huntsman Container.

Presidential elections[edit]

He served as Chairman for Utah in Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign in 1984 and George H. W. Bush's campaigns in 1988 and 1992.[29]

1988 Utah gubernatorial election[edit]

In March 1988, Huntsman announced he would run against incumbent Utah Governor Norm Bangerter in the Republican primary. Huntsman was leading in public opinion polls, sometimes by a double digit margin.[31] He reportedly spent almost $300,000 in campaign advertising. A few weeks later, Huntsman went on a 10 day business trip to Asia with his friend U.S. Senator Jake Garn, who was chairman of Governor Bangerter's campaign. In mid-April Huntsman dropped out of the gubernatorial race and endorsed the governor, saying that party unity and his business responsibilities were more important than his political career, and asking political independents to support Bangerter.[32][33] Later that year, Governor Bangerter appointed Huntsman to be the first Ambassador for Economic Development for the State of Utah.[18]

2012 Republican presidential nomination[edit]

Huntsman's son Jon Meade Huntsman, Jr. served in the administrations of four U.S. Presidents including Barack Obama, and was a candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.[26]

There was considerable speculation that the viability of Jon Huntsman, Jr.'s campaign might depend on Jon Huntsman, Sr.'s willingness to fund advertising for it, via the Superpac "Our Destiny PAC".[34] Jon Huntsman, Jr. reportedly downplayed the possibility of receiving campaign funding from his family before the New Hampshire Republican primary, 2012, telling NPR that "the Huntsman family gives to humanitarian causes and doesn't consider a political campaign to be a humanitarian cause".[35] However, reports filed with the Federal Election Commission later showed that Our Destiny PAC received $2.7 million in contributions, $1.9 million of it from Huntsman Sr.[36][37] Much of that money was spent on campaign ads, including $914,000 on campaign ads in New Hampshire in the two months before the January primary.[38]

Huntsman, Sr. appeared on stage with Jon Huntsman, Jr. and his wife and daughters at the third-place finish celebration in Manchester, New Hampshire.[39] Huntsman Jr. announced his intention in Manchester to continue the campaign in South Carolina[39] but dropped out on January 16, in advance of the vote there, throwing his support to Mitt Romney.[40]


Huntsman is widely recognized for his humanitarian giving which, including contributions to the homeless, the ill and the under-privileged, exceeds $1.2 billion and has assisted thousands, both domestically and internationally.[3] The Chronicle of Philanthropy placed Jon and Karen Huntsman second on their 2007 list of largest American donors.[41] On January 1, 2000, The Salt Lake Tribune included him among "The 10 Utahns Who Most Influenced Our State in the 20th Century" for his donations to education and medical research.[42] In 2001 Jon and Karen Huntsman were presented with the Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Principle-Centered Leadership.[43] In 2003 he received the Humanitarian of the Year Award, presented by Larry King of CNN. In November 2008, the American Cancer Society presented him its Medal of Honor for Cancer Philanthropy.[44]

Cancer research[edit]

The Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

One of Huntsman's most notable causes is the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, of which he is the founder and principal benefactor. He and his wife Karen established the Huntsman Cancer Institute in 1993 with a gift of $10 million from the Huntsman family. The Huntsmans gave the institute a further $100 million in 1995, an amount roughly equal to a year's total distribution to researchers from the American Cancer Society.[45] Their goal was to accelerate the work of curing cancer through human genetics. The institute is now one of America's major cancer research centers dedicated to finding a cure for cancer with a state-of-the-art cancer specialty hospital.[5][27]

The Institute continues to receive substantial gifts from the Huntsman family. Huntsman, who himself is a cancer survivor, has stated "Except for my family and faith, there is no cause more important to me than fighting cancer... I have committed the rest of my life to doing all I can to support clinical and research efforts to eliminate this disease."[46]

In November 2013, Huntsman donated $50 million to the University of Utah for the construction of a new research building dedicated to children's cancer. Construction of the new building is slated to begin in 2014.[47]

Huntsman has also promoted support of the institute through the Sigma Chi fraternity. Sigma Chi chose the Huntsman Cancer Foundation as one of its preferred philanthropic partners in December 2012. As of April 12, 2013, Sigma Chi had raised one-million dollars for cancer research.[48][49]


Jon M. Huntsman Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City

Huntsman has supported the University of Utah in Salt Lake City in other ways as well. The 15,000-seat Jon M. Huntsman Center for special events opened in 1969 and is used for gymnastics, basketball, and volleyball.[50] It has been the site of national championships in both gymnastics[51] and basketball, including NCAA men's basketball.[52] As of 2013, the Huntsmans have supported the building of an additional basketball practice facility, to be named the Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Center.[53]

Huntsman has also given support to other universities. He has served as Chairman of the Board of Overseers of his alma mater, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, PA.[54] One of the school's signature buildings, Jon Huntsman Hall, was named in his honor. Huntsman made an unrestricted gift of more than $50 million to Wharton, which was critical to development of the $140 million project.[55] As of 1994, the Huntsmans also endowed the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business at the University of Pennsylvania, a four year undergraduate program that combines business education and liberal arts.[56]

In 1989 Huntsman gave $1 million to Utah State University in Logan, Utah for the Huntsman Environmental Research Center. At a press conference to announce the gift, Huntsman said the preservation of the environment is the single most important issue in the world. The Huntsmans also donated $500,000 to rebuild the Alumni Center, renamed the David B. Haight Alumni Center in honor of Mrs. Huntsman's father.[57] In December 2007, Utah State University announced that its College of Business would be renamed the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, in recognition of a gift from Huntsman and his wife of $26 million—the largest in the university's history to that time.[58]

The law library at Brigham Young University, built in 1975, was expanded and renamed for Howard W. Hunter in 1995 with financial support from Jon and Karen Huntsman and other donors.[59] A new library building at Southern Utah University, named in honor of retiring SUU President Gerald R. Sherratt, contains the The Jon and Karen Huntsman Reading Room.[60] The Huntsmans also contributed to the Karen H. Huntsman Library in Snow College, Utah. Completed in 2010, it is a "green" building, expected to be the first academic library in the state to achieve gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.[61][62]

Aid to Armenia[edit]

Huntsman has also contributed to efforts to rebuild in Armenia, which was devastated by an earthquake in 1988. He and other family members have made 46 trips to Armenia over 25 years.[63] He estimates that he has given at least $50 million to relief efforts in Armenia, including money to build schools and hospitals.[64] One of his earliest projects there involved setting up a plant to make pre-stressed concrete, to supply building materials for reconstruction and to employ Armenians.[63] The Huntsmans have built a tile roofing plant in Yerevan,[65] apartment complexes, and a K-12 school in the city of Gyumri.[63][66] The Huntsmans also provide scholarships to bring Armenian students to American to study at Utah State University.[63][67] Huntsman has been granted citizenship in the country and awarded two medals of honor by Armenia, one of them the St. Mesrop Mashtots Order,[63][65]

Huntsman's donations of more than $1.2 billion over all dropped him from the "Forbes 400" list as of 2010. His current wealth is not disclosed; however, he was listed as number 937 on the "Forbes World's Richest Persons" for 2010.[68] He is one of only 19 of the world's 1,200 billionaires to have donated more than $1 billion.[3] He has said that he wants to "die broke" by giving his money away to various charities.[69]

Rocky Anderson, Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City, has said of Huntsman:

I was impressed with Jon from the first, when he told me he lost respect for Richard Nixon... when he learned that Nixon had not given anything to charity one year he was president ... It was clear to me that Jon's real motivation in his work and accumulation of wealth was to give much of what he has to make people's lives better.[70]


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