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.
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.
Deseret Morning News graphic
Requires Adobe Acrobat.
But it's the Huntsman name that brings him to the top of the early GOP polls, Jones said.
"My guess is (his showing) is mainly name identification," said Jones, who has polled in Utah for 30 years. "And name identification is very important. Huntsman Jr. has it, along with Hansen.
"People know the Huntsmans because of their contributing back to society" in their charity work, Jones said. "They have the cancer institute, the (University of Utah) special events center named after them. They've given much back to the community."
As Huntsman Jr. moves through the political landscape this spring and summer, the good feelings brought on by the family's charitable giving will be only one advantage.
There will also be wealth when Huntsman Sr. briefly ran for governor in 1988, he spent $300,000 in three weeks of campaigning. And Huntsman Jr. could easily drop $3 million or $4 million into his 2004 race with little financial concern. Huntsman Jr. campaign aides say the candidate believes the overall race could cost $5 million.
But the name could mean more than money.
Through political, religious, civic and other connections, the Huntsmans have reached out and touched the lives of thousands of Utahns, thousands of Americans and thousands of people living outside of the United States, some who may not fully understand the family's influence.
One example: Since 1988's devastating earthquake in Armenia, the Huntsmans have given or invested $45 million in the small Eastern European nation. "A third of its citizens were either killed or made homeless in the earthquake," said Huntsman Sr. "When you see suffering like that, you have to act, if you can."
Huntsman spokesman Don Olsen says the firm, with vast holdings throughout the world, has rarely been sued over health-related problems of its 14,000 employees or people living near Huntsman plants although a number of suits were filed against previous owners of now-Huntsman chemical operations.
Still, an irony of Huntsmans' charitable giving to cancer-fighting research is that the petrochemical industry as a whole has a poor health-and-safety record and is blamed by various groups and individuals for practices and pollution that caused cancer in humans.
'Out of my back pocket'
Although a Huntsman has never been elected to political office, the family has wielded political influence in Utah and in Washington, D.C.
Several sources told the Deseret Morning News that Huntsman Sr. and his cancer researchers at the Huntsman Cancer Institute were instrumental in persuading Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to take on conservatives of his own party in battling to keep some stem cell research legal and provide federal funding for such research.
The Huntsmans and their scientists also contacted leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in an effort to educate them about stem cell and other genetic-related research, in hopes, sources said, that the church would not oppose such research. LDS leaders ultimately issued a statement saying the church takes no stand on stem cell research but continues to monitor such work.
Besides the familial connections to LDS Church leaders, the Huntsmans have a close association with LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley. The Associated Press reported in the late 1990s that President Hinckley often uses a Huntsman corporate jet to fly around the nation and world. President Hinckley spoke at the dedication of a college building in Pennsylvania named after the Huntsmans, and Huntsman Sr. spoke at the funeral of former LDS Church President Howard W. Hunter. (Huntsman Sr. also made a $5.5 million donation to the Brigham Young University law school for a new law library, which was then named after President Hunter, a Huntsman family friend.)
Outside of the LDS Church, two years ago Huntsman organized the Alliance for Unity, a group of Utah community business, religious and civic leaders whose aim is to heal wounds in the community caused over Mormon/non-Mormon clashes, media sales, banking mergers and other divisive issues. Deseret Morning News editor and COO John Hughes sits on the Alliance board.
Huntsman Sr. said he knows most of the 100 U.S. senators personally and visits Washington, D.C., regularly lobbying for more federal money for cancer research.
Huntsman Sr. praises Hatch for "getting a few lines" in the huge new Medicare reform bill that just passed Congress and provides federal cancer care monies that should allow the new Huntsman Cancer Hospital to get several million dollars a year.
Like other endeavors, he puts his money behind his talk. The Huntsmans are Republicans. But three years ago, Huntsman said he'd start giving to any congressional candidate who promised to support cancer research.
The Huntsmans as individuals, through their political action committees and Huntsman corporations give around $300,000 a year to local and national campaigns and parties.
During 2000 and 2001, the Huntsmans gave $200,000 each to both the national GOP Senate committee and the national Democratic Senate committee, the money then being mainly used to re-elect sitting senators. But individual giving by the family to specific candidates and PACs leans heavily to Republicans, a review of Federal Election Commission reports shows.
Today, about 45 percent of the Huntsmans' political giving is going to Democrats, says Olsen.
In the early 1990s, Huntsman Sr. gave $60,000 to the fight against legalizing parimutuel betting on horse races in Utah. He also gave $10,000 to Hatch's legal defense fund when Hatch was accused of wrongdoing in the Bank of Commerce and Credit International scandal. (Hatch was later cleared of those accusations.) And in 1991, Huntsman gave $5,000 to help host a National Republican Governors Association meeting in Salt Lake City.
In 2002, the last big election year, Huntsman's political contributions fell second only to Democrat Ian Cumming's among all Utahns, a Deseret Morning News computer search of FEC reports showed at that time.
It's fairly clear, then, that when Huntsman Sr. talks even when he takes a public stand against a popular movement people listen.
His was one of the few credible voices raising concerns about how the Salt Lake Organizing Committee was handling fund-raising and conflicts of interest among its board members as SLOC prepared for the 2002 Winter Games. In 1999, after SLOC was reorganized following a bribery scandal that rocked the organization and Mitt Romney was hired to turn Utah's Games around, Huntsman Sr. endorsed the Olympics and became one of the most ardent supporters with a $1 million donation. (Before the scandal broke and Romney was hired, Huntsman Jr. offered to take over SLOC's helm and serve at no pay an offer that was turned down by SLOC's board.)
But it's the family's charitable giving and the big numbers with it that may have the most long-term impact on Utahns and those across the country.
While Huntsman Sr. says his family has given or pledged $400 million over the past 10 years for a variety of charities, public records on their activities are sketchy. So it's difficult to get a complete picture of the family's economic impact in the state.
But clearly the generosity involves tens of millions of dollars a year with one newspaper account in the late 1990s placing the giving between $30 million and $50 million a year.
"We give most of our money in Utah, around 75 percent," Huntsman Sr. said.
By comparison, the Utah United Way in 2002 raised around $8 million in the state, getting money from 35,000 individuals and businesses, a United Way spokeswoman said. Another well-known benefactor, the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation, gave away $36 million in 2001 and $193 million between 1992 and 2001, its annual report shows.
The Jon and Karen Huntsman Foundation the family's main donation organ with public filings as of the last reporting period had $44 million in assets and had dispensed $9.9 million over the past year. Huntsman Sr. confirmed those numbers but added that while that foundation will be the main vehicle for huge grants given in the future, in the past much of the giving "came out of my back pocket" with limited public disclosure required.
In some cases, some of the giving is public, others private, even to the same organization. For example, Jon and Karen Huntsman together have personally given the University of Utah more than $3 million, reports U. spokesman Remi Barron. The Huntsmans' foundation has given $4.6 million to the U. But those totals don't include Huntsman corporate giving, which is not public, Barron said.
The foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit entity, and as such, has limitations, said Huntsman Sr. There are other restrictions that take "away some of the fun" that comes from just writing a check at the spur of the moment, says Huntsman Sr.
Just one such case: In May 2000, Huntsman Sr. was invited to give the main commencement speech at Weber State University. Huntsman says he had a talk prepared. "But I just put the speech down. I asked the graduates to stand and repeat after me the quote: 'No exercise is better for the human heart than reaching down and lifting another up.' "
He then promised a hundred $10,000 scholarships for WSU and sat down. "It was all over pretty quickly," he recalls.
Deseret Morning News graphic
Requires Adobe Acrobat.
While WSU officials were surprised, other groups have come to rely on the Huntsmans' giving year after year.
Over the past decade, the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera have received more than $1.6 million from the Huntsmans, says Glenn Lanham, director of development for the symphony and opera.
Each year the Huntsmans sponsor one or more symphony and opera performances at around $25,000 each. In addition, the family is a major sponsor of the Deer Valley summer symphony concerts, where the Huntsmans have a home. That series sponsorship comes in at between $50,000 and $100,000 a year.
"The groups like the Huntsmans, who give year after year not only sponsoring performances but giving to our endowment as well, provide a firm foundation for us to move forward," said Lanham, who previously worked for the Huntsman Cancer Institute. "It gives us stability, especially in hard times."
The symphony, for example, faced buckets of red ink just a few years ago. When pressed to give more to bail out the organization, Huntsman Sr. reportedly said he would continue to give after the symphony's board of directors got the group's financial house in order, several sources said. A merger between the opera and symphony organizations came some time later.
The $1 million given to the Salt Lake City YWCA to help build a $4 million, 36-unit housing center for battered women and their children, named after Huntsman's mother, Kathleen Robinson Huntsman, made that program possible, said Anne Burkholder, CEO of the organization. "This could not have been done without them. It was the first program of its kind in Utah, only second in the nation," Burkholder said.
And Armenia is not the only giving outside of his home state. Marilyn Baptiste, principal of Memorial High School in Port Arthur, Texas where the Huntsmans have a large chemical plant said the Huntsman company has reached out to help area schools. "They have responded to every request we've every made," she said. "They do things that are noticed here."
For a decade and into the future it's the cancer institute and the now-under-construction hospital that get most of their cash.
"We're going to keep giving (personally) and raising money for the institute until we have the Mayo Clinic of cancer hospitals here," Huntsman Sr. said.
In fact, the day he was interviewed for this story, Huntsman Sr. had just returned from giving a group of his petrochemical clients a tour of the institute and hospital. "They'd better give (to the cancer cause) or they'll hear about it as our clients," he joked.
The cancer institute/hospital will cost between $430 million and $440 million, Huntsman said. "Since 1994, we've given $132,530,000 ourselves," he said, glancing at a computer printout of all of the family's giving over the past 15 years a printout he declined to share with the newspaper.
"We've pledged $125 million more over the next five or six years ourselves," he said, adding that the exact payouts depend on how well Huntsman LLC does, exactly when he sells out and for how much.
"Now the hospital does have a $100 million bond. And I'm out fund raising for that, too."
Olsen said that while the Huntsman firms have had a hard financial time of it recently, the family has managed to keep its philanthropic promises. "Sometimes Jon (Sr.) has had to come up with the money himself," Olsen added.
Huntsman corporate offices are in Utah because Jon Sr. demands it be so, said one Huntsman executive. "There's really no reason to have the largest privately held chemicals firm in the world in Salt Lake City" when none of the corporation's plants are located here, the executive added.
But while the staff at corporate headquarters in the University of Utah Research Park has dwindled, the cancer institute employs 500 people. When the hospital opens next June (on Huntsman's 67th birthday), it will employ another 500 people. All told, the Utah Huntsman operations put about $47 million directly into the state's economy each year, said company spokesman Olsen.
Huntsman Sr. says he has kept his immediate family in Utah, as well, when other wealthy Utahns have left to avoid paying taxes.
One source said Huntsman himself paid more than $2 million in state capital gains taxes in 2000 after the firm sold a major holding. "Boy, did we pay taxes, and proud of it," said Huntsman when asked about the sale of Huntsman Packaging for $1.65 billion. "Some people, I won't mention any names, moved 100 miles east (to Wyoming) and west (to Nevada) so as not to pay (state income) taxes. We stay here. We play by the rules."
Using a variety of public sources and interviews, the Deseret Morning News added up about $250 million over the past 15 years in giving by the Huntsman family. But that's just part of the real total, said Huntsman Sr. "I think it is around $400 million" in actual cash out of pocket to non-LDS Church giving, he said, declining to fill in any holes.
Besides those dollar amounts, public records show Huntsman giving cash to remodel several buildings. But dollar amounts of those gifts were not recorded, and officials at those organizations declined to name the amounts given. They include remodeling the Cathedral of the Madeleine and two buildings at This Is The Place Heritage Park.
"The best way to give is to slip the money under the door and run" away anonymously, said Huntsman Sr.
Each month, between 200 and 300 requests for money come into Huntsman headquarters, he said. One full-time staffer and a couple of assistants work through the requests. "We can't give to everyone; we'd be broke in two months if we gave all that is asked. But I do read each letter" that declines the request, he said.
"And I've seen some (letters) where Jon has written in red ink no, give some help here" and sent it back to his staff for a check, said Olsen interrupting his boss.
"For 15 years or so, I've listened to my heart talk and give," continued Huntsman. "As long as I have $1 in the till, I'll give it. So I'm not going to break out for you what we've given. Most of the money we've given is buried out there," said Huntsman, pointing out his office's westward-facing wall of windows to the Salt Lake Valley.
"You won't find it."
'Out of my back pocket'
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company