Jon Huntsman Sr. was awarded the 2014 William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership. The Simon Prize honors the ideals and principles that guided Mr. Simon’s giving, including personal responsibility, resourcefulness, volunteerism, scholarship, individual freedom, faith in God, and helping people to help themselves.
After serving as a gunnery officer in the U.S. Navy and earning degrees at Wharton and University of Southern California, Mr. Huntsman got his start in business with a food company that later merged with Dow Chemical. Mr. Huntsman became its president at age 30. He soon struck out on his own, founding the Huntsman Container Company in 1970, which took off with the invention of the Styrofoam clamshell container for Big Macs and later led to Huntsman Chemical Corporation and the global enterprise known today as Huntsman Corporation.
Mr. Huntsman and his wife, Karen, have been committed to charitable giving throughout their 55-year marriage, having contributed generously to causes meeting the criterion of “relief of human suffering.” Their lifetime giving is estimated to exceed $1.4 billion.
After his first bout with cancer—which he has now survived four times—he focused his attention on founding a major cancer center at the University of Utah. The state-of-the-art Huntsman Cancer Institute combines research with patient care, much of it informed by his own experience with cancer treatment. Mr. Huntsman’s commitment to the institute, which now exceeds $450 million, plus over $1 billion he has raised from other sources, has remained steady even while his business was in crisis, even when a key funding partner backed out, even when it was necessary to borrow against his own house to make sure his humanitarian commitments were met. His hope is that the institute’s top-flight researchers, one of whom recently won the Nobel Prize in Medicine, will ultimately develop genetics-based preventive treatments for the disease. Meanwhile, the institute serves a large regional population that was previously without a cancer center.
The Huntsmans’ other philanthropic gifts include $53 million to Wharton, $35 million to the Utah State University Huntsman School of Business, $55 million to rebuild Armenia after the 1988 earthquake, and hundreds of millions to organizations that serve the homeless, the elderly, victims of domestic violence, and more.
In 2011, Forbes identified Mr. Huntsman as one of just 19 living billionaires, out of 1,200 worldwide, who have made more than $1 billion in charitable donations. One of the first signatories of the Giving Pledge, Mr. Huntsman believes that its requirements are too lax: billionaires should be encouraged to give away at least 80 percent, not half, of their fortunes, he says.
Previous winners of the William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership include Eli and Edythe Broad, Bernie Marcus, Charles Koch, Roger Hertog, Phil and Nancy Anschutz, Dr. Ben Carson, the late Sir John Templeton, and the late John Walton. The prize includes a $250,000 award, payable to a charity designated by the winner.
Mr. Huntsman was honored on Thursday, October 9, at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah, during a special lunch at the 2014 Annual Meeting of The Philanthropy Roundtable.