The Huntsman name may already be familiar to business students on campus, but earlier this year they had the chance to learn more about Huntsman Corporation straight from its Chief Financial Officer Kimo Esplin who came to speak to the Finance and Economics Club.
Describing Jon M. Huntsman as a man with an “uncanny ability to gauge risk,” Mr. Esplin related Mr. Huntsman’s entrepreneurial story of building Huntsman Chemical from scratch. Because he didn’t have the money initially, he borrowed it and grew his business through debt. “What we do as managers is we take calculated risks and we make money on that,” he said.
Photo by Sterling Morris
Mr. Esplin emphasized the importance risk plays in financial management and encouraged students to work with people they can trust in an environment where they can manage risk.
In order to be a good risk manager, it is necessary to know critical finance principles, Mr. Esplin said, so he advised students to “dig into” core finance classes because those principles are real in the life of a CFO.
Along with gaining a core finance understanding, Mr. Esplin stressed the importance of writing skills. He said he spends 90 percent of his day writing, especially e-mails. He said he wishes he were a better writer, noting that he was “crushed by his competition” in grad school because of his lack of skills in that area.
Reading two newspapers every day, Mr. Esplin stays informed about international current events. He told the students that one of the most important things they can do is expose themselves to the global environment. Many students at Utah State have international experience with a desire to work internationally, but Mr. Esplin said they can’t expect to find a job right out of college in a specialized area with immediate international opportunities.
In deciding which direction to go for a career, Mr. Esplin advised students to, “Ask lots of people lots of questions. Ask people where they came from and what they did. If you do that, you’ll be able to think more about what there is out there and what your options are.”
Mr. Esplin himself started school not knowing what he wanted to do as a career, but decided to try accounting because he had heard it was a good field. Earning a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and then an MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University in Chicago, he worked in accounting for KPMG for six months. He said he was terrible at it and decided to go into investment banking.
Although he loved his new career choice, the lifestyle was intense, so he set a goal to become a CFO. Starting as a treasurer, he said, seemed to be the logical path to reach that goal. He joined Huntsman in 1994 as vice president and treasurer following seven years with the Chicago office of Bankers Trust Company in corporate finance, where he worked closely with the Huntsman organization.
Mr. Esplin now serves as executive vice president and chief financial officer of Huntsman Corporation, where he oversees accounting, treasury, finance, corporate strategy, corporate development, information systems and tax. Huntsman today has 13,000 employees, more than 75 operations in 24 countries and 2008 revenues of $10 billion.