Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rags to riches: Jon M Huntsman

If one man could symbolise the American Dream, Jon Huntsman would be a key candidate.

The 61-year-old father of nine is a rags-to-riches billionaire with downhome family values. He donates hundreds of millions of dollars to charity.

His company, Huntsman Corporation, is the biggest privately owned chemical company in the US, and the man who founded it has no intention of ever taking it to the stock market. It would mean profits to shareholders, and he prefers to pass money to charity.

In the US, Mr Huntsman's generosity is legendary. When Armenia was hit by an earthquake 10 years ago and 100,000 people left homeless he built a concrete plant to help rebuild their houses. Then there is his work for the homeless in the US, and millions more donated to charities worldwide.

Born in Idaho, the son of a music teacher, Mr Huntsman describes his upbringing as 'meagre', but he won a scholarship to the noted Wharton business school.

After graduating he married his childhood sweetheart Karen and embarked on a career in the California egg business. Aged 30 he became boss of an egg packaging business which gave the world the plastic egg box; he decided to go into business on his own.

While his first plastics plant was being built he went to work in the White House, as an aide to President Nixon. At the same time he was buying music rights from labels like Capitol and CBS, packaging them together and using television to get sales. Twenty one of his first 23 albums - with titles like Greatest Hits of Rock & Roll - went gold.

By 1974 he had developed the clam-shell carton for hamburgers - and sold it to McDonald's. By 1980 he had sold up and started working for the Mormon church for three years, only to return to business, buying out Shell's polystyrene business.

Huntsman - with John, Karen and six sons on the payroll - is now among the world's biggest producers of rubber, cling-film, bread bags and ingredients for soaps, toothpaste and detergents.




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