''One of the greatest Utahns ever to live''

Billionaire chemical industrialist and one of the world’s most generous philanthropists Jon Huntsman died aged 80

''One of the greatest Utahns ever to live''

Jon Huntsman, a billionaire chemical industrialist, one of the world's most generous philanthropists and father of US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr, died aged 80. The Salt Lake Tribune newspaper published an article about the man respected not only in his state of Utah, the USA, in general, but all over the world. The Salt Lake Tribune's Senior Managing Editor Matt Canham told about his life. Realnoe Vremya makes a summary of the article and tells about Jon Huntsman's road to success.

Barefoot to Billionaire

The Salt Lake Tribune says the Huntsman family is well known and respected in the state of Utah and beyond. But everything started in a different way.

Jon Huntsman Sr was born to a poor family on 21 June 1937, in Blackfoot, Idaho. His father was a schoolteacher. The family lived in a two-room house without plumbing. The life he had as a kid made an impact on him and his two younger brothers.

''Throughout my life, I have hustled to outrun the shadow of poverty,'' he wrote in his autobiography titled Barefoot to Billionaire. So he attempted to create an international empire, not a business.

As a diligent student, Huntsman won a scholarship to attend Wharton School of business at the University of Pennsylvania. He then joined the Navy and served as a gunnery officer aboard the USS Calvert. He married his high school sweetheart Karen Haight in June 1959, just weeks after graduation.

Jon Huntsman Sr's autobiography Barefoot to Billionaire. Photo: Rick Bowmer / AP

Then Huntsman tried to master a new product — polystyrene — in a California plant in which he got his first job via his wife's family.

Matt Canham writes that Huntsman said he was in over his head when he looked back to the beginning of his career in the chemical industry.

In 1970, Huntsman and brother Blaine Jr launched their own polystyrene company. Huntsman Container skyrocketed after winning a contract to create the clamshell for McDonald's Big Mac.

His business was in embryonic form, but Huntsman accepted a job as President Richard Nixon's staff secretary. Huntsman managed the paperwork in the Oval Office, supervised staff salaries and benefits. He left that position shortly before the Watergate scandal and was not implicated in any of the crimes that led to Nixon's resignation.

Huntsman said there was obviously a dark side to Nixon and history has proven it. And the president treated him extremely well. ''Nixon was my hero,'' he said.

Being in Washington, Huntsman acquainted with the Marriott family, owners of the ubiquitous hotel chain. Bill Marriott, a close friend, remembered Huntsman as a compassionate, bright businessman and a fighter. Marriott said, ''He had an amazing, amazing ability to come back.''

He was a gambler inside, Huntsman moved his family to Utah and started borrowing millions of dollars to buy polystyrene plants in the 1980s. It happened when prices hit rock bottom because of an excess in the market. He was certain the polystyrene surplus eventually would become a shortage as there would be more and more plastic products.

By 1990, he was worth $450 million and rose to $2,5 billion six years later. His business continued fluctuate in the volatile chemicals market but delayed bankruptcy on more than one occasion.

In the 1990s, Texaco Chemical was one of Huntsman Corp.'s biggest purchases. Wayne Reaud, a Texas trial attorney, Wayne Reaud called the company ''the most hated company in Beaumont.''

''I spent much of my time suing Texaco for the way it treated its employees. People would get horrible injuries working there. They would get burned horribly. And Texaco didn't care,'' he said. Then Jon Huntsman bought Texaco and told him if they gave him a chance, they would see that he was different.

Reaud said Huntsman kept his promise. They became close. Reaud also joined Huntsman Corp.'s board of directors. He calls Huntsman ''the greatest man I know.''

The Salt Lake Tribune's Senior Managing Editor Matt Canham says Huntsman constantly gave money to charities. In 1987, he donated $5 million to the University of Utah. In recognition, they called the university basketball arena after him.


Jon M. Huntsman Center. Photo: wikipedia.org (Scott Catron)

The following year, he contemplated a run for public office. He challenged incumbent Governor Norm Bangerter for the Republican nomination in 1988. A month later, Huntsman took a step back and paid attention to his business. Not long after that, a health scare would give him a new life mission.

Huntsman's mother died of breast cancer in 1969. In 1990, he watched as his father wasn't able to fight prostate cancer. A year later, he was told by doctors he had the same deadly disease.

''One of the greatest Utahns ever to live''

When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, Huntsman aimed to not only survive but also create a research institute to cope with all cancers. He wasn't just the richest resident of Utah, he also took care of his state, helped the needy and improved local colleges. According to his second-oldest son, Peter Huntsman, in his final years, he certainly expected his children to try to build the legacy.

In December, Huntsman gave up his title of executive chairman of the company, saying
''it was a high honour''
to hand over control to his son Peter. The company has left the volatile polystyrene market behind in order to focus on more stable designer chemicals. Headquartered in Texas, Huntsman Corp. now works in about 30 countries and has approximately 10,000 employees.

Jon Huntsman was a determined person who felt his business success gave him a responsibility to improve the lives of other people and chair his state towards a better future. Governor Gary Herbert called him ''one of the greatest Utahns ever to live''.

By Aygul Ziyatdinova