Next time someone tells you business can't be done ethically -- corners must be cut, negotiations can't be honest -- hand them Jon Huntsman's new book. He started with practically nothing, and made it to Forbes'list of America's Top 100 richest people. Huntsman's generous about sharing the credit, but in the 21st century, he's the nearest thing to a self-made multi-billionaire. Now, he presents the lessons of a lifetime: a passionate, inspirational manifesto for returning to the days when your word was your bond, a handshake was sacred, and swarms of lawyers weren't needed to back it up. This is no mere exhortation: it's a practical business book about how to listen to your moral compass, even as others ignore theirs. It's about how you build teams with the highest values, share success, take responsibility, and earn the rewards that only come with giving back. Huntsman's built his career and fortune on these principles. You don't live these principles just to 'succeed': you live them because they're right. But in an age of non-stop business scandal, Huntsman's life proves honesty is more than right: it's the biggest competitive differentiator.
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JON M. HUNTSMAN is chairman and founder of Huntsman Corporation. He started the firm with his brother Blaine in 1970. By 2000, it had become the world's largest privately held chemical company and America's biggest family owned and operated business, with more than $12 billion in annual revenues before going public in early 2005. He was a special assistant to the president in the Nixon White House, was the first American to own controlling interest of a business in the former Soviet Union, and is the chairman of the Board of Overseers for Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater. Mr. Huntsman also served on the boards of numerous major public corporations and organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Red Cross. The Huntsman businesses fund the foundation that is the primary underwriter for the Huntsman Cancer Institute, a leader in the prevention, early diagnosis, and humane treatment of cancer. He resides with his wife, Karen, in Salt Lake City, Utah, where his oldest son, Jon Jr., was elected governor in 2004.
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I'm a trial lawyer and the book you're about to read could put me out of business. Nobody would be happier about it than me.
Over the past 30 years, I have taken some of America's biggest corporations to court, calling them to task for behavior that threatened people's health and livelihoods. From asbestos makers to tobacco purveyors to computer manufacturers, I have fought to make big companies more accountable in their business dealings.
Ordinarily, you would not expect a trial lawyer to be particularly close with the CEO of a big corporation. So when people hear that Jon Huntsman and I are good friends, and have been for 15 years, they tend to scratch their heads. In the ecology of the business world, aren't we natural enemies? Don't our respective jobs put us at odds with each other? The answer to both questions is no. And the reason is simple: Jon Huntsman is not your average CEO.
Jon is a true rarity in the corporate world: a hugely successful entrepreneur whose conscience is as sharp as his business sense, whose word is known as an unbreakable bond. From his very first job, picking potatoes in rural Idaho at age eight, to his current position of running the world's largest private chemical company, he has always put ethical concerns on equal, if not greater, footing than his business concerns.
I could give you a laundry list of things Jon has done—donating record-setting amounts to cancer treatment and research, tithing to his church, giving millions to colleges and universities—but that still wouldn't give you a clear idea of why he's so unusual. His ethics go far deeper than simply making donations and glad-handing for good causes. They are at the core of his being. They are, for him, a way of life.
In Plato's seminal work, The Republic, he gives us the notion of the ideal leader: the "philosopher-king." This is the man who possesses the perfect marriage of a philosophic mind and an ability to lead. As Plato wrote: "I need no longer hesitate to say that we must make our guardians philosophers. The necessary combination of qualities is extremely rare. Our test must be thorough, for the soul must be trained up by the pursuit of all kinds of knowledge to the capacity for the pursuit of the highest—higher than justice and wisdom—the idea of the good."
Jon Huntsman has pursued "the idea of the good" all his life, and as the continued health of his companies show, he's more than able to lead. But the true test of ethics comes not when a person gives with nothing to lose. It comes when he gives with everything to lose. That's why Jon Huntsman is the right man to do this book. And there's no question that he's doing it at just the right time. In this age of Enron, Tyco, insider-trading scandals, and rampant corporate malfeasance, we need Jon Huntsman's voice and leadership more than ever.
I hope Jon's book will remind us all that, like him, you can do well and do good at the same time. As a trial lawyer, I want every businessperson in America to read this book and take to heart Jon's example. Maybe then my fellow trial lawyers and I would have nothing left to do.
There's nothing I'd like better.
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