Jon M. Huntsman

Jon Meade Huntsman was born in Blackfoot, Idaho. His mother, Sarah Kathleen Robison Huntsman (1910–1969), was a homemaker, and his father, Alonzo Blaine Huntsman Sr. (1910–1990), was a school educator. In 1950, the family moved to Palo Alto, California, where Alonzo pursued graduate studies at Stanford University, earning an M.A. and Ed.D. He then became a superintendent of schools in the Los Altos district.

Mistakes are not the problem. How one identifies and corrects errors, how one turns failure into a new opportunity, and how one learns from those mistakes, determines the quality and durability of leaders.

— Jon M. Huntsman

Jon Huntsman attended Palo Alto High School, where he became student body president. He was recruited by Harold Zellerbach, chairman of Crown-Zellerbach Paper Company, to attend the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania on a Zellerbach scholarship. He graduated from Wharton in the spring of 1959, a brother of the Sigma Chi fraternity.

Huntsman married Karen Haight, daughter of David B. Haight, in June 1959, just weeks after he graduated. Both are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). In July 1959, Huntsman left to serve for two years in the U.S. Navy as an officer aboard the USS Calvert. He subsequently earned an MBA from the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business in 1966.

Huntsman served under President Nixon as Special Assistant to the President and as White House Staff Secretary.

young Jon Huntsman sitting at a white house desk

Most human beings are comparable to the proverbial “Unborn Masterpiece.” They never know what talents they possess until they take the plunge. We each have within us a lot of abilities that oftentimes we don’t recognize until they are tested.

— Jon M. Huntsman

In 1970, Huntsman founded the Huntsman Container Corp., which focused on food packaging and pioneered the clamshell container used for McDonald's Corp.'s Big Mac hamburger. He formed Huntsman Chemical Corp. in 1982 and more than a decade later, consolidated his companies as Huntsman Corp., producing materials used in a wide range of products, from textiles and paints to plastics and aviation components. Huntsman Corporation became publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange in 2005.

After amassing his fortune, Jon Huntsman gave more than $100 million in the mid-1990s to establish a research center at the University of Utah dedicated to finding a cure for cancer through human genetics. Huntsman, who lost both his parents to cancer and fought his own battle with the disease, eventually gave more than $400 million to the Huntsman Cancer Institute and its foundation.

Involvement with the USU Huntsman School of Business

In December 2007, Utah State University announced that its College of Business would be renamed the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, in recognition of a gift from Huntsman and his wife of $26 million.

Huntsman was the lead donor for the new $50 million school of business building referred to as Jon M. Huntsman Hall. A student-centered facility includes 21 classrooms, 21 student study rooms, a cafe, and multiple student common rooms.

In 2017, Huntsman and his friend Charles Koch donated $50 million to the Huntsman School to provide scholarships, support faculty, expand the school’s honors program, and to establish a center to further economic research.

Personal Life

Their oldest son, Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., served as the US Ambassador to Singapore from 1992 to 1993, Governor of Utah from 2005 to 2009, US Ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011, and US Ambassador to Russia from 2017-2019. He was also a candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Son Peter Huntsman serves as Chairman, President, and CEO of Huntsman Corporation. David H. Huntsman serves as President of the Huntsman Foundation and as a member of the Utah State University Board of Trustees, while another son, Paul Huntsman, is the publisher of the Salt Lake Tribune. At the time of his death, the Huntsman’s also had 56 grandchildren, two of whom were adopted from China and India, and 19 great-grandchildren.

Huntsman was a four-time cancer survivor. He died on February 2, 2018 at his home in Salt Lake City.

Quotes by Jon Huntsman

We are equipped with the values that have accompanied us since our earliest years. That preparation provides us with the strength to weather storms. Sail on...

For me the feat epitomized both who I am—how I operate and why I ended up where I did—and my favorite kind of deal, one designed on a napkin to include fluidity and flexibility in the spirit of never say die.

Nothing gets done without accountability.

My company and I have been in the eye of more than one perfect storm. I kept the faith and won far more battles than I lost.

If one carries forward the problems of yesterday, one will never have time to focus on the creations of tomorrow.

Remembrance Quotes

Larry King

Jon Meade Huntsman may well be the most remarkable billionaire most of America has never heard of...Jon Huntsman is living proof you can do well by doing right.

— Larry King

David Huntsman

Whatever speaks to his heart, he supports it financially, and, for my father, it’s very personal. It’s not about buildings,it’s not about numbers, it’s not about recognition. I think he genuinely has the ability to feel empathy and compassion for others and that speaks to his heart, and I think that drives his decision-making when it comes to supporting people in need. When my father makes a commitment, he likes to make it significant and he likes to do it over a long period of time. He likes to make sure that that gift, you know, has maximum impact.

— David Huntsman, son and president of Huntsman Foundation and of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation

Karen Huntsman

Jon has it in his DNA to make a difference. He believes it is his duty to give back and to share with others, and this philosophy of giving has guided him throughout his life.

— Karen Huntsman

Dr. Patrick Harker

Jon is indeed a rarity in the world today, but I am seeing more and more young leaders being drawn toward his set of values and principles. My hope is that as we expose more and more students to Jon’s story and his philosophy, he will be less of a rarity.

— Dr. Patrick Harker, Wharton’s Dean in 2007, when asked about an important mentor in his life.

Dr. Stephen R. Covey

How timely! How needed it is for one of the finest human beings, industrial leaders and philanthropists on the planet to compellingly drill down on 10 timeless, universal values for business and life. This book edifies, inspires, and motivates all of us to model these commonsensical lessons for our organizations, all our relationships and especially our posterity-for what is common sense is obviously not common practice.Primary greatness is character and contribution. Secondary greatness is how most people define success-wealth, fame, position, etc. Few have both.Jon's one of them.

— Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness

Dean Douglas Anderson

Jon saw in Utah State University an institution that he admired and that he thought he could help aspire to a higher level of performance. He didn't just slide a check under the door and then leave us alone. He was our partner every step of the way. He was totally aligned with our vision, but he constantly encouraged us to reach higher, dig deeper, and accomplish more. He loved our students, and they loved him. We are a much better institution because of his generosity, friendship, and love.

— Dean Douglas Anderson

Karl Malone

Jon Huntsman and I have this much in common: We were raised to work hard, play fair, keep your word and give back to the community. I relate to what he is saying. Real winners never cheat.

— Karl Malone Twice the MVP of the NBA and Utah Jazz legend

Dr. Amy Gutmann

Jon Huntsman is more than a phenomenally successful entrepreneur. He is a giant of a leader and a role model of integrity. In Winners Never Cheat:Everyday Values We Learned as Children (But May Have Forgotten), Mr.Huntsman establishes the inextricable link between following one’s inner moral compass and achieving lasting success. His book is filled with timeless wisdom, timely examples, and an inspiring life story. Jon is the quintessential nice guy who has finished first!

— Dr. Amy Gutmann President, University of Pennsylvania

George Bush

Everyone who knows Jon Huntsman is aware that he is a man of impeccable character and decency. In sum, he is the best!

— President George H. W. Bush (appeared in Gold Magazine)