SALT LAKE CITY – FEBRUARY 2: In this photo provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (2nd-R) and his wife Ann (R) speak with Jackie Leavitt (C), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) (L) and John Huntsman Sr., during the funeral of President Gordon B. Hinckley, leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center February 2, 2008 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took time out from his campaign schedule to attend the funeral. (Photo by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY – FEBRUARY 2: In this photo provided by the Church…
Jon Huntsman Sr., the billionaire industrialist who founded The Woodlands-based petrochemicals company Huntsman Corp., died in his Salt Lake City home on Friday. He was 80.
The lifelong businessman and philanthropist leaves behind a legacy as one of the industry’s most influential and generous innovators. His invention of the “clamshell” package for McDonald’s and other food companies was an early success in a nearly 60-year career that earned him a position in Richard Nixon’s presidential administration, crowned him head of a global petrochemicals empire and gave him the means to found a cancer research institute and hospital in Salt Lake City.
“That’s the American dream if there ever was one,” said his son Peter Huntsman, who now serves as Huntsman’s chairman, CEO and president.
Huntsman in 1970 founded his first company, Huntsman Container Co. , a predecessor of the giant corporation that today bears his name. When the first plant was under construction, he joined the U.S. Department of Health and soon became Nixon’s special assistant.
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He left the White House in 1972 to run his new company. It debuted the clamshell package in 1974 as drive-ins and fast-food franchises popped up across the nation.
He founded Huntsman Chemical Corp. in Salt Lake City 1982, and by the end of the decade, he had acquired five chemicals plants in Texas, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia and Illinois. The business continued to grow through acquisitions, and by 1993, Huntsman had earned enough money to establish the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah with an initial $10 million pledge.
In 1994, Huntsman bought Texaco Chemical Company’s global operations for $1.1 billion, a massive acquisition involving six chemicals plants in the U.S. and several others in Canada, Europe and Latin America. At the time, Texaco Chemical employed 2,600 people worldwide.
Peter Huntsman recalled visiting one of the newly acquired Texas facilities with his father and several Texaco Chemical executives who, in white-collared shirts and ties, looked out of place on the production floor. But Jon Huntsman, who thrilled at the chance to visit a plant, rallied the employees and promised that his company would focus on creating a good, safe workplace for all of them.
“We don’t play golf,” he said, a good-natured jab at wealthy corporate culture. Peter Huntsman said the floor erupted in laughter.
When the group left the plant, a Texaco Chemical executive popped his trunk in the parking lot. There sat a bag of golf clubs.
Huntsman continued to grow the business through acquisitions, snapping up competitors and expanding operations worldwide. In 2000, he named Peter Huntsman CEO and president while retaining his role as chairman — a post he held until stepping down in December.
In 2004, Forbes pegged the elder Huntsman’s net worth at $2.3 billion, and the company went public the following year. It soon relocated its headquarters to The Woodlands, closer to its Texas operations and the supplies of natural gas it needed to create petrochemical feedstocks.
Both the company and Huntsman himself continued to grow in stature and influence throughout the decade. He backed Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential bid.
His son, John Huntsman Jr. served two terms as governor of Utah and ran as a Republican presidential candidate in the 2012 election. He now serves as the U.S. ambassador to Russia.
The elder Huntsman in 2014 released a memoir called “Barefoot to Billionaire,” a deeply personal account of his rise from a poor household in Blackfoot, Idaho to one of the most influential rungs of society. He divided it into two parts: “Building the Fortune” and “Giving it Away.”
At the time of the book’s release, he had given almost $1.5 billion to the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Forbes pegged his personal net worth at about $1 billion.
In the memoir, he explained his love of entrepreneurship, innovation and his reputation as a “tough but honest negotiator.” A lifelong Mormon, he dedicated much of his time to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even donating one of his Gulfsteam jets for church use.
He called himself a “card-carrying devotee” of Elvis Presley, collected classic cars and admitted to having amassed a “weapons-grade” cache of Beanie Babies. His guilty pleasure, he added, was reading supermarket tabloids.
Peter Huntsman, who now oversees a company worth about $11 billion, said his father fell ill in the final years of his life. In December, the elder Huntsman handed the role of chairman to his son.
“He had an ability to connect with people and instill creativity and ethics,” Peter Huntsman said. “He was a man of great accomplishments, and I am immensely proud of him.”
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