SALT LAKE CITY — The Philanthropy Roundtable has selected Jon M. Huntsman Sr., founder and principal benefactor of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, as recipient the 2014 William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership.
The prize will be awarded to Huntsman in Salt Lake City during the roundtable’s 23rd annual meeting, Oct. 9-10. The Philanthropy Roundtable is a national network of foundations, individual donors and corporate giving programs. The prize includes a $250,000 award, payable to a charity of the winner's choice.
"The selection committee was very impressed by his extraordinary generosity, by his honoring of his philanthropic commitments even when he was experiencing personal financial difficulty, by his leadership in establishing the Huntsman Cancer Institute and by his dedication to the principles that the William E. Simon Prize seeks to honor — faith, freedom, individual responsibility, voluntarism, scholarship and helping people to help themselves," Adam Meyerson, president of the Philanthropy Roundtable, said in an interview Friday.
Huntsman, a cancer survivor, has committed more than $450 million to the state-of-the-art Huntsman Cancer Institute, which combines research with inpatient and outpatient care.
In November, the institute announced it was expanding its research efforts to include children's and family cancers.
Huntsman's commitment to the institute has been steadfast, even as "his business was in crisis," the Philanthropy Roundtable statement said.
Huntsman "doubled down when a key funding partner backed out, and even extended to taking out a loan on his own house. 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 release said.
Huntsman and his wife, Karen, have been committed to charitable giving throughout their 55-year marriage, including numerous significant gifts to the University of Utah, including the Jon M. Huntsman Center multipurpose arena, college scholarships and significant contributions to Utah nonprofit direct service providers to the poor, seniors, and women and children escaping domestic violence.
Huntsman, who served in the Navy, earned a bachelor's degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a master's of business administration from the University of Southern California.
Some of his other philanthropic gifts include $53 million to Wharton and $27 million to the Utah State University Huntsman School of Business.
Huntsman launched his business career at Olson Brothers, an egg producer in Los Angeles, where he led its container division at age 30. He soon set out on his own, founding the Huntsman Container Corp. in the 1970s, which made its mark with the invention of styrofoam egg and McDonald's Big Mac clamshell containers.
The container company evolved into Huntsman Corp., a global manufacturer and marketer of differentiated chemicals. "Originally known for pioneering innovations in packaging and, later, for rapid and integrated growth in petrochemicals, Huntsman has approximately 12,000 employees and operates from multiple locations worldwide. The company had 2013 revenues of over $11 billion," its corporate website states
As Huntsman grew the business, philanthropy remained a front-burner pursuit. Following a 1988 earthquake in Armenia, Huntsman donated $50 million to rebuild the now independent nation, which was part of the Soviet Union until 1991. An estimated 25,000 people died in the earthquake.
According to Forbes, Huntsman donated a reported $1.3 billion in his lifetime and $76.8 million in 2012, moving him into the No. 22 spot on the magazine's list of 50 Philanthropists Who Have Given Away the Most Money.
In 2011, Forbes identified Huntsman as one of just 19 living billionaires among 1,200 worldwide who have given more than $1 billion in charitable donations. Huntsman was one of the first signatories of the Giving Pledge, although he has said its requirements are too lax: Billionaires should be encouraged to give away at least 80 percent.
Meyerson said the Simon Prize selection committee received "an extraordinary number of high quality nominations" for the 2014 award.
"The prize was set up to honor the late William E. Simon Sr. The selection committee thought Mr. Huntsman embodied the principles and leadership that the prize was intended to honor," Meyerson said.
"I think the selection committee was also moved by multiple stories of his own charitable touch of helping, including personally giving consolation and assistance to patients in the hospital and their families," he said.
The Simon Prize recognizes lifetime achievement in social entrepreneurship. Simon was a pioneering private equity fund leader and served as secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
A well-regarded philanthropist, Simon provided hundreds of scholarships for underprivileged high school and college students. He also served on the U.S. Olympic Committee for more than 30 years, including the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
In the last years of Simon's life, he served as a eucharistic minister to hospital patients, many of whom were destitute and terminally ill, according to the William E. Simon Foundation website. "He called this work 'the most important thing that I do or have ever done,'" his biography states.
Previous winners of the Simon Prize 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.