By SARALEE HUNTSMAN
He is the owner and CEO of the world’s largest privately held chemical company in the world, has personally given Books of Mormon to prime ministers, presidents and kings around the world, and Jon M. Huntsman has had the honor of being the first member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to meet and kiss the cheek of Pope John Paul II.
But aside from all his world fame, Huntsman can probably lay claim to owning the largest collection of Beanie Babies. He says he collects them for his 41 grandchildren, but don’t tell them he keeps the rarest ones concealed in his desk drawer.
Jon Huntsman’s company, Huntsman Corporation, receives revenues exceeding $8 billion annually, according to Don Olsen, the senior vice president of Public Affairs.
In September 1999, Huntsman bought out four major businesses from what used to be Britain’s largest chemical company, Imperial Chemical Industries, for an estimated $2.8 billion, Olsen said.
In order to maintain this billion-dollar business, Huntsman is constantly flying around the globe visiting with employees, community groups, national leaders and presidents.
“To many leaders of the countries I’ve visited, I am the only member of the church they’ve ever met,” Huntsman said. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression, therefore, there is a heavy responsibility to be honest, faithful and a person of integrity to represent the church in the way that the prophet would.”
Throughout his business transactions and travels, Huntsman keeps popping up in media across the United States and around the world.
Huntsman said that with all the media attention he and his company have received, there has never been anything negative published. There have been misunderstandings about the LDS Church, such as polygamy, that he has had to clear up, but 10 minutes later reporters move onto other questioning, he said.
Magazines including Forbes, Chemical Week and Business Strategy have published articles about Huntsman and his corporation. The BBC (British Broadcasting Company) recently aired a 30-minute special on Huntsman entitled, “The Best Boss in the World?”
“In my interviews, the media start out negatively, but by the time I’m finished with them it’s very positive,” Huntsman said. “Most of the media around the world, like anyone else, respond very positively to a warm personality and by just being a good friend.”
Every time I speak, I talk about the church no matter who it is I am talking to, he said. “Half my talks are always on my faith because people are always curious as to why a successful global businessman is a Mormon, and I have to explain to them that it’s the anchor of my life.”
Perhaps the key to Huntsman’s global success is not just his conviction to his faith but also his million-dollar contributions to an estimated 105 charities around the world.
One of his biggest contributions, according to an article in Chemical Week, was the $100 million he donated in 1995 to build the Huntsman Cancer Research Institute — the largest contribution ever made to medical study.
The Sunday Telegraph, a London newspaper, estimates Huntsman has given approximately $275 million to charity.
Huntsman said a major theme in his life has been to end human suffering. Huntsman himself is a cancer survivor, overcoming prostate and mouth cancers.
But besides being a generous philanthoper, Huntsman is a man of his word.
Olsen said Huntsman is able to be as successful as he is because he has walked away from deals and countries that wanted him to compromise his principles.
“Jon has lost many millions of dollars because he promised someone something at one time, shook their hand, and between the time that they shook hands and the deal was closed, margins changed. He could have legally made several millions of dollars more, but because he had given his word at the time the deal was struck, he stayed with that deal and lost many tens of millions of dollars that he could have made,” Olsen said.
Huntsman’s wife, Karen, said “What you see is what you get with Jon.”
When the BBC came to interview my husband, they tried interviewing other people because they wanted to find out the negative side of Jon, but they could not find anything because that is who is he is, Mrs. Huntsman said. “His family values and work ethic just come through him.”
Huntsman is very much a man of his word and because he conducts himself in this way and people know that he is a member of the church, by extension the church receives favorable publicity, Olsen said.
Huntsman said the media’s perception of the LDS Church has progressed tremendously over the past couple of decades, but the last two years have been painful for the church in the media.
The media have misunderstood various issues surrounding the Olympic bribery scandal and polygamy — issues the LDS Church has no control over. These issues have brought Utah more publicity than it has ever had, and Utah and the LDS Church are inseparably connected in the media, Huntsman said.
“All we can do in the church is have members continue to keep the faith, continue to reach out to their non-member friends and continue to be an example. If they do that, the church will continue to have positive reflection and little by little, we will change the perception of the church around the world.”
After spending an afternoon with Huntsman, one can feel the sincerity of his comments. He is a laid back individual who rather be wearing a baseball cap and navy cardigan, than an expensive Armani suit.
Surprisingly, this billionaire keeps a toy choo-choo train in his office. Huntsman calls it his Christmas train and says he keeps it there to remind him that everyday of his life is Christmas because he has been so blessed by Heavenly Father.