SALT LAKE CITY—The plastics industry lost a legend on Feb. 2 when Jon M. Huntsman, founder and Chairman Emeritus of Huntsman Corp., died. He was 80 years old.
Huntsman died at his home in Salt Lake City surrounded by family. He had stepped down as executive chairman of the firm on Dec. 31. Huntsman's son Peter, who serves as the firm's president and CEO, was named chairman Jan. 1.
Jon Huntsman Sr. founded Huntsman Corp. in Salt Lake City in 1970 as a plastic foam packaging maker. The firm's early products included polystyrene egg cartons and the iconic PS clamshell for McDonald's Big Mac.
Huntsman Corp. expanded through a series of strategic acquisitions. The firm now employs 10,000 and has annual sales of around $7 billion, ranking as a world-scale producer of polyurethanes, pigments, advanced materials, performance products and textile effects
In a Huntsman Corp. news release, officials said that Huntsman was "widely regarded as one of his generation's great industrialists" and that he "leaves behind an extraordinary legacy."
Jon Huntsman received numerous industry awards in his long career, including membership in the Plastics Hall of Fame and a leadership award for lifetime achievement from the American Chemical Society.
Huntsman also in 1995 contributed $100 million to establish the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City. The institute has been a pioneer in genetic research and treatment and is a world-renowned cancer institute and hospitals.
"In his heart, Mr. Huntsman was first a philanthropist, and his life's ambition much greater than business," company officials said in the release. "His mission was to find a cure for cancer and alleviate its ravaging effects on mankind."
"Some 10,000 Huntsman employees today mourn the loss of our founder," Peter Huntsman said in the release. "Dad loved to visit our sites around the world.
"Many of our employees knew him personally, and he knew many of them by name," he added. "All respected him deeply.
"They regarded my father as their personal coach, mentor and friend. While never a chemist, he knew more about human chemistry than anyone I have ever met. His passion was building a great company from assets and people that others had seen less value in than he."
Peter Huntsman also said that his father "leaves behind a great company, but even more so, a legacy of optimism, ethical behavior and philanthropy that will serve as his greatest accomplishments."
Former presidential nominee Mitt Romney posted a tribute to Huntsman on Facebook, saying Huntsman's legacy will be "as a healer of men."
"From providing care and employment to people in earthquake-ravaged Armenia to building libraries of learning here at home, Jon was relentlessly devoted to helping others," Romney wrote. "Ann and I will profoundly miss our good friend's broad smile, his hearty handshake and his example of faith, honor, and integrity."
The Huntsman Cancer Foundation is accepting donations in Jon Huntsman's memory.
When his decision to step down as executive chairman was announced, Jon Huntsman said that it was "a high honor to turn the chairmanship role over to Peter Huntsman, who I consider to be one of the world's outstanding CEOs."
He added that Huntsman Corp. "will continue to experience its sound growth and strong financial controls under Peter's experienced oversight."
"It has been both a great challenge and a special privilege to be chairman for almost half a century," Jon Huntsman said at the time.