Huntsman's charity sets him apart

Published: Tuesday, May 15 2001 12:00 a.m. MDT

Time listed Jon Huntsman Sr. last year as the sixth-largest philanthropist in the United States.

Jason Olson, Deseret News

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Jon Huntsman Sr. stands before the windows of his large office — a 40-foot-long expanse of 10-foot-high tinted glass that gives him a commanding panorama of the Salt Lake Valley. But Huntsman, listed as the third most influential person in Utah in a Deseret News study, says he prefers the longer view.

Like across the world.

Huntsman, 63, is chairman of the largest privately held petrochemical corporation in the world, Huntsman Corp., which has 121 facilities in 44 countries. Forbes magazine lists him as the 47th richest man alive, worth $6.6 billion.

Huntsman calls heads of state and leading corporate giants his friends. He is one of the few Utahns to have had a private audience with Pope John Paul II. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has stayed at his Deer Valley retreat.

While it is Huntsman's wealth that makes him unique among Utahns, even Americans, it is his charitable giving that puts him in the ranks of the state's most influential people.

Huntsman said he's surprised to find himself in the newspaper's top three with LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley and Gov. Mike Leavitt. He said he can see how President Hinckley and Leavitt got there — the leader of the dominant religion and the governor.

"But I've never perceived myself as one who had great influence," Huntsman said. "I've tried to be very honest, open and frank in any comments I've ever made." (He was an early critic of how Utah bid for the Winter Games but now strongly supports the Games.)

Candor "doesn't necessarily translate into any influence or power per se," notes Huntsman.

But money and connections do.

Huntsman, his wife, Karen, and their nine children have donated $350 million to various causes in the state, he notes. Time magazine listed Huntsman last year as the sixth-largest philanthropist in the United States.

Huntsman's leading effort is the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah Medical Center.

Both of Huntsman's parents died of the disease and he has survived two episodes of it himself. Huntsman plans to build a cancer hospital next to the institute, which sits about a mile away from his corporation's headquarters, high on the city's eastern foothills.

But his touch is felt in many other areas: the annual Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, the Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education that annually give 10 Utah teachers $10,000 each, homeless shelters, sanctuaries for abused women and children, to name a few.

Huntsman moves easily in the halls of power in Utah and elsewhere. President Hinckley uses the Huntsman corporate jet whenever he travels and Huntsman is son-in-law to Elder David B. Haight of the LDS Church's Quorum of The Twelve.

One insider said church leaders routinely ask Huntsman to take on special projects, "ones where Jon can use his international connections and resources to solve an immediate problem."

Huntsman was the national finance chairman for Elizabeth Dole's presidential campaign in 2000. He is chairman of international services for the American Red Cross and sits on the board of the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a master's degree.

Jon Huntsman Jr. is leaving his job as Huntsman Corp. vice chairman to become a top trade ambassador in the new Bush administration.

As Huntsman reaches the peak of wealth and influence, he appears on the brink of taking a new, broad step: Getting out of the petrochemicals business and concentrating on his charitable foundation.

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