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Philanthropy: Huntsmans win fame for generosity

By Bob Bernick Jr. and Jerry D. Spangler
Deseret Morning News

Published: Friday, Jan. 16 2004 10:30 p.m. MST

Jon Huntsman Sr. congratulates LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, who received the Salt Lake Chamber's "Giant" award in October.

Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News

At first, Jon Huntsman Sr. worked hard making money so he could . . . well, make more money.

For 15 years, though, he's made money so he can give it away.

And in the not so distant future — maybe six months, maybe two years — Huntsman plans to sell or otherwise transfer his interest in the Huntsman chemical business and give all of his wealth, except personal property like houses, to his own charitable foundation, which could become one of the leading philanthropic operations in America.

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SIZE="2">Huntsman series:

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Sunday: The mixed environmental record of the Huntsman petrochemical conglomerate.

Today: Philanthropy and political, religious and civic connections.

Tuesday: The past, present and future of the Huntsman business empire. At first, Jon Huntsman Sr. worked hard making money so he could . . . well, make more money.

How much the foundation could be worth depends on how much Huntsman's personal stock (he and wife Karen own two-thirds of 51 percent of Huntsman LLC, a $9 billion operation) is worth when Huntsman finally sells out.

Huntsman said the foundation will have more than $500 million, perhaps as much as $1 billion.

While Huntsman's chemical business has suffered financially in recent years, industry analysts say the petrochemical business is primed for a turnaround. And Forbes Magazine estimated Huntsman's worth earlier this year at $2.5 billion — tying him for 71st place among the wealthiest people in America. "Forbes is pretty thorough" in coming up with that assessment, said Huntsman, declining to put a number on it himself.

The foundation won't give all the cash away. Much of it will earn interest on investments, providing an economic engine "that will still be giving in 100 years, I hope," Huntsman said in a recent Deseret Morning News interview.

In just over 15 years, the Huntsmans' philanthropic endeavors have become legend in Utah.

And it's that legend the family may draw upon as Jon Huntsman Jr. — the oldest of the family's nine children — seeks the Utah governorship this year.

Jon Huntsman Jr. has held only appointed positions in federal and state governments — ambassador to Singapore under the first President Bush and special trade ambassador under the current President Bush.

Still, the younger Huntsman is clearly being aided in his gubernatorial run by the weight of his name.

A Dan Jones & Associates poll conducted for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV last July found that Jon Huntsman Jr. placed second to then-three-term Gov. Mike Leavitt among Republicans considering a gubernatorial race in 2004.

When Jones removed Leavitt from the race and ran the names again, Huntsman Jr. placed first with 36 percent of the support. Jim Hansen — the 22-year veteran of the U.S. House who has been on various ballots for more than 30 years in Utah and has never lost a race — finished second behind Huntsman Jr., Jones found.

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