Glenn’s radio interview with Jon Huntsman

GLENN: From Radio City in Midtown Manhattan, this is the third most listened to show in all of America. I wanted to take a special hour here and talk to you about something that is very, very personal to me and something that I think you are going to get an awful lot out of. I know I have. I want to tell you that I changed on 9/11 and then I changed about two, three months after that. Do you remember all of us standing in line to donate blood after 9/11? Do you remember how many times we would drive by a firefighter and he would be standing out in the middle of the street and he would have a boot out there and you’d put that money in the boot? Do you remember watching even Hollywood ask for funds and you wrote the check and you wrote the check to the point that it hurt. And then do you remember finding out all the scandal of all of the money from 9/11 and what happened to it and how they were buying phone systems, and I told you on the air right after that, I said I will never lend my name to an organization for fundraising ever again, won’t do it, because I can’t trust any of them. I said I am going to personally going to get involved, I will personally donate, but it’s up to you to personally donate and you do the homework yourself. The only exception I have made on that is the USO and it’s actually the USO of metropolitan New York. It’s not even the USO for the entire United States and the reason why I have raised money for the USO is because I personally am involved at the USO of metropolitan New York. I have personally gone and made care packages for our troops with our family at the USO of metropolitan, New York. That’s the only exception I’ve made, on the air, until today. And I’m going to make this exception because I met a man who I think is changing my life. I met a man who I had no idea people like this even existed. Before I introduce you to him, I want to tell you how we met.

I was out West and a friend said, "Jon Huntsman would like to meet you." And I said, isn’t he like the billionaire that invented the egg carton?" And they said, yeah. And I said, I’m cool to meet billionaires, okay. Said, "He wants to take you to lunch." Said all right. So I arrive and I’m driving up the mountain and I’m seeing a giant hospital up on top of the mountain and I drive up. They said, well, here we are. I said, hmmm, Jon Huntsman knows how to treat a man right. We’re eating at the hospital. It’s the Huntsman Cancer Center.

We went in and Mr. Huntsman was waiting there at the front door and we walked out, kindest guy you’ve ever met. Walked out and he shook my hand and I said, hello, Mr. Huntsman. He said, "Glenn, I want to take you out for lunch here and I want to show you the cancer center." And I said, yes, sir, I’d love to see it. He opened up the door and I was one step in to this hospital and I said, my gosh, I have never seen a hospital. He turned around and he looked me in the eye and he said, "It’s not a hospital." He said, "I’m going to cure cancer and then I’m turning this into a Ritz Carlton." And I laughed. He said, "I’m serious. We’re going to cure cancer here." And you know what? I believe him.

We went upstairs and we had lunch. I had, I think, prime rib in the cafeteria. I’m not kidding you. It was the best prime rib I’ve ever had. Why? Because Jon Huntsman has had cancer before and in his treatment at 3:00 in the morning, he would be starving and they couldn’t get anything and then when the kitchen would open, it stunk. The food was bad. So when he opened up his cancer center, he decided he wanted to have five star dining for everybody. The patients can order whatever they want, whenever they want it and it’s unbelievable.

Treating the patient with respect, something I learned firsthand recently, how important it is, but it goes so much further than just the hospital, and if you want to understand the hospital, you have to understand the man behind it. So many people tell me you can’t be a good businessman anymore and just have ethics. You’ve got to shave the edges. You’ve got to cut the corners. No, you don’t. Proof positive, Mr. Jon Huntsman. Welcome to the program, sir.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Glenn, and thank you for that very remarkable and thoughtful introduction.

GLENN: Jon, I mean this sincerely, and Neil Cavuto and I are becoming good friends and we have spent a lot of time just talking back and forth about you. You are truly one of the most remarkable men I think on planet Earth. You are a billionaire, but you started life living in a house that literally had cardboard walls, right?

HUNTSMAN: Well, that’s right, Glenn, but first of all, thanks to you and Neil for those comments. I would disagree with you on any person who’s out of the ordinary. Sometimes extraordinary things happen to people and sometimes blessings befall certain people, but you’ve been very gracious and I accept that with a deep sense of humility.

GLENN: Jon, see, this is what I love about you but that’s — I mean, some people make it happen and they change the world. You — start at the beginning. You grew up poor. You picked potatoes for a while and you lived in a home that had two families living in it divided by a wall that was made out of cardboard.

HUNTSMAN: Well, that’s close, Glenn. I was born in rural Idaho in a place, my father was a rural schoolteacher in southern Idaho and we lived in a very, very small home, two-room home without inside plumbing. And then my father moved some years later to receive a college education, a graduate education, and we moved into student housing for three years, very difficult years for a young man, and I have two brothers. So three of us were crammed in there with Mother and Dad. And that’s where we actually lived in a converted World War II Quonset hut where we had cardboard walls. We lived there for three years as we paid all of our money to help Father get through his college education and that made my — Glenn, that made the home where I was born with outside plumbing look like a mansion.

GLENN: Then you went on and you went back picking potatoes. You worked for a guy where you learned a lot of lessons because he wasn’t necessarily a good guy and then at what point did the egg container thing happen?

HUNTSMAN: Well, after I — I had the wonderful opportunity for a very, very thoughtful Jewish family in San Francisco, called about different high schools in California and the West and they sent me back to the Wharton School of Finance. I had never heard of the Wharton School. I didn’t know it was the number one business school in America and they sent me there. Then afterwards with that education and an Idaho background, a lot of farming and potato picking and good common sense that farm boys sometimes have, I landed a job in the egg business and in the egg business it was there that we developed the first plastic egg carton and I left that after about a decade and went into my own business to develop the first plastic plates, bowls, dishes, take-out food containers, a multiplicity of products including the first Big Mac container and many other products that are out on the market. And this is about 1973 or ’74, Glenn. But I have to tell you and your wonderful audience that, you know, I had men and women surrounding me who were smarter than I was and who really get the credit for many of these early innovations and productions that have changed literally the world in which we live.

GLENN: Okay. You know, John, quite honestly I thought it was cool that, oh, wow, this is the guy who, you know, his company made the first plastic fork and spoon. How cool is that. But it didn’t, it didn’t impress me. What has impressed me, sir, is what you have done with that money. You are an extreme capitalist who has gone literally from rags to riches and yet you do your business on a handshake. You look a man in the eye and a deal is a deal. And if you don’t mind telling the story of how you sold your business to somebody who got a bunch of attorneys involved, all the parameters changed and he came back to you and said, "Okay, I know your business is worth an awful lot more; what is it going to cost me today." Can you tell that story?

HUNTSMAN: Well, thank you, Glenn. I will. I again mention it with a certain moderate reservation because it sounds a bit self-serving but life is interesting, Glenn, first of all. Life is not fair, but we must be fair in our dealings and that’s the one thing I think that transcends everything we do in life is that we constantly bump against situations that are unfair and people who are unfair and corporations who are unfair and government institutions and yet — and this is a perfect example and it didn’t even occur to me, but I mean, you are raised as kids with an opportunity as young men and women, boys and girls to live in the sandboxes of our life, the playgrounds of our life. It allows us to learn manners and honesty and integrity and we treat each other well. When we’re all kids, we don’t know some are black, some are white, some are brown and some are Muslim and some are Christian and some are Jewish. Nobody cares because we all treat people fairly. As life came along, my business, when you are starting from nothing, you are always in a financial spiral downward and you move up and you give part of that away or you share it or you expand it. You are moving down. So you always have to protect the down side of your business. That’s a common thing.


Jon and Karen Huntsman

So I sold 40% of my business to a man by the name of Emerson camp and he was chairman and CEO of Great Lakes Chemical, one of the great chemical companies in America, 1986. Emerson said I’ll pay you $54 million. I’ve had this business appraised and the 40% I’m buying, I’ll pay you $54 million. I said, Emerson, that’s fine. I was excited to move on, I needed the money, I needed it for payroll and for expansion and for the other purposes of a growing business, and he took quite a bit of time to get around to having his attorneys look into the deal and to give me the papers, the contract and all the other negotiating instruments that we had to have in a deal that size.

Finally by the time he did it, six months had elapsed and in the meantime our markets had turned around. The chemical markets are similar to most other commodity products, whether it be metals of different kinds or gold or silver or oil, and we know what the oil markets have done. Well, the same thing happened back in ’86 in the chemical market. The prices of chemicals had gone up dramatically. Margins had improved, profits had improved. And after six months when he came back with a contract, that price was worth not $54 million but for 40% of the business it was then appraised at $225 million, a rather handsome difference. And so he came back with his lawyers and said, Jon, I know I’ve delayed, I know I’ve waited, I know I haven’t moved fast, but the business is now worth approximately $200 million. And I said, no, Emerson, it’s worth about $225 million if we take our latest appraisal.

Anyway, to make a long story short, he said, let’s split the difference. I’ll pay you $125 million for your 40% of the business. And I said, Emerson, that’s not — I will not accept that. I shook your hand at $54 million six months ago and that’s exactly what you’re going to pay for this business. And he was arguing that he should pay more and I was arguing that a handshake’s a contract. I don’t care about the lawyers. When you shake a man’s hand, it’s a contract. It’s your bond. It tells a little bit about your integrity. And even though I may have lost money on that deal, Glenn, I didn’t lose money in life. It was an important aspect for my children, my grandchildren and our corporation to see that when you make a deal, a deal is consummated with the shaking of another man’s hand. And forgive me again for sounding self-serving, Glenn, but thank you for asking.

GLENN: Jon, I’ve got to tell you I read that story about you and it brought me to tears when I heard that story because there’s more to that story than you will ever tell. As I read it, you had said at the end, "But in the end it all turns around and it’s all worth it in the end." And I expected that you as a businessman would say, "Because in the end what I did caused this other business deal to happen and I made $350 million." But instead that’s not what had meaning to you. You said that in the end after this gentleman passed away, he asked you to speak at his funeral and that’s what made losing all that money worth it to you. How?

HUNTSMAN: Well, Glenn, he died a few years after that event and his funeral was held in Indianapolis and I was asked along with the governor of Indiana, Evan Bayh at the time, he is now a U.S. senator, the two of us were asked to speak at his funeral and I thought, you know, this man must have been remarkably moved by the fact that he had dealt with someone who had been honest with him in his dealings to the point where when he passed away, he had put in his last testament, his papers who he wanted to speak at his funeral. We weren’t particularly close. There was no great reason why I should speak above those who had been his friends for life. But that had meant so much to him, and I looked around that, the group who had come to hear his eulogy, Glenn, and there were all of the leaders of the chemistry, my peers, the ones I would be doing business. And when I was introduced at that funeral, they said the deceased man, and they told a little bit about him, had great respect for Mr. Huntsman because of their business transaction.

Well, that meant a great deal to me that he would ask me to speak, Glenn, and again I’m pinching myself here a little bit because I’ve heard so many sugar type stories about people who are self-serving, and I don’t want to come across that way, Glenn.

GLENN: Well, I know, Jon, and the reason why I know you are so — you are. You are an amazing guy. You are so uncomfortable talking about yourself and the reason why I am asking you to do that, or I have asked you to do that, to share that story is because I need my listeners to understand why I can then come to them and say I want you to, if you are looking to give money to a charity, I want you to give money to this charity. I want you to help Jon Huntsman and all of the amazing people at the Huntsman Cancer Institute cure cancer and help these patients. The reason why I wanted you to tell that story is because in today’s world no one knows who they can trust. No one wants to take their hard earned money, especially when, you know, America’s beginning to struggle, and give it to somebody and not know that it’s going to the right place. It’s not going to limousines, it’s not going to overhead. It’s actually going to help people. And I needed — my word is my bond to my listeners, Jon, and I needed them to know why I know the guy who runs this institute, his word is his bond. I can’t ask anybody to ever give a dime to anything unless I know that, and they needed to hear that from you. And I’m sorry to make you uncomfortable but it’s the integrity that you have that permeates that hospital that I have never, ever seen in another charity and I am relieved to finally find it, Jon.

HUNTSMAN: Well, thank you so much, Glenn, and to your listeners. I’m very, very appreciative and grateful, and it is a remarkable place and it is expanding and growing and as you know, Glenn, we’re doing great works for cancer and we could get into that if you’d like in any way, shape or form, but it’s a terrible, terrible disease and it affects one out of two men and one out of three women in their life. So half of your listeners out there in that great world in which we live will someday be impacted by this disease and all of their families will in one way or another.

GLENN: I need to take a break and when we come back, I want you to go to HuntsmanCancer.org and see the facility and read all about it. But when you come back, I just had the worst experience of my life in a hospital. I want to show you the exact opposite, the way a hospital should be, next.