Interviews

Jon Huntsman Sr. on family, new book

Famed businessman on 'Your World'

 

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," October 29, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right. Well, she has tried to dial it back. But meet the businessman who says, when it comes to Hillary Clinton's latest biz bashing, the damage might already be done.

Not only does petrochemical billionaire Jon Huntsman Sr. say corporations do hire people. It's big government politicians and their rules and regulations that could make it very hard for them to continue hiring any people.

Huntsman says bashing business should not be what campaigns are about, because building those businesses and the opportunities that come with them is what this country is about. And that's what Jon's great book is about, his own rags-to-riches story in what he calls the greatest country on earth in one of the most talked-about autobiographies this year. I guarantee you it will be, "Barefoot to Billionaire."

It's the story of how he got that money, what he is doing with that money and how he broke it to all his kids, you ain't getting a penny of that money.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: Now more on that in a second, and one of the kids, who I think you know.

First to their dad, who broke the news.

Jon Huntsman Sr., great to see you, my friend.

(LAUGHTER)

JON HUNTSMAN SR., FOUNDER & CHAIRMAN, HUNTSMAN CORPORATION: Neil, it's an honor to be back again. Thank you.

CAVUTO: It's -- it's good to have you.

I always make a point of reading books of the authors who I have on here. And I really was not expecting much from this book, no offense to you. You're a giant.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: But business autobiographies, they can be kind of dry. Anything but.

You just exposed yourself to the world in this book. And you also exposed, maybe unintentionally, how business guys are perceived and very successful guys are perceived, like they had this great life, and everything is easy and rosy. But it's not.

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: It's not, Neil.

And somebody explained to me the other day. They said, the thing I like about your book is, it's business-oriented, it's philanthropic- oriented, it's politically oriented, and the thing I like the best is the mystery part of it.

CAVUTO: Yes.

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: And I guess that's because all families have their challenges, and all families have their -- their problems of -- with children, with grandchildren, with each other.

CAVUTO: Yes, they -- the perception is that the rich, the 1 percent of the 1 percenters like you, like your family, do not.

Now, I don't want to give a lot of way about the death of a daughter. I don't want to give a lot away about in and out of flirting with financial ruin, or your own battles with illness, serious illness, but that doesn't seem like a very idyllic life to me.

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Well, no. And the kidnapping of one of our sons was a terrible thing...

CAVUTO: Right.

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: ... because the FBI agent was almost killed in the process.

But, you know, Neil, through our challenges and through our problems, we grow and we develop and we develop and we develop. You know, I will never get over the heartache of losing my daughter, and we are helping to raise her seven children.

I will never get over the heartache of an FBI agent almost dying rescuing my son from a kidnapping. So, no good deed goes unpunished. And sometimes in life, we try to do our very best to help others, and in the process it brings some anguish to us.

But we can't ever let that stop us. We can't ever be stopped from helping others and allowing them to have some sense of happiness and joy in their life.

CAVUTO: Well, there is that. And I'm looking at your life. And it's illustrated in the book as well.

How do you remember all the birthdays and all the grandkids' birthdays and the anniversaries? Like, how the heck is that done?

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: That's a military secret that I don't know if I should divulge or not.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: This is it. This is -- it's in a Christmas card I received. And when it came to the Huntsman, my wife -- that was the first thing my wife said. How the heck do you buy gifts for a gang that big?

Just you all share this kind of thing?

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Well, we do.

We...

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: I tell them, if they would like to -- we have a certain place we go to, we go for Christmas holidays. And if they'd like to come with me, I will pay their way and take good care of them. If they don't, merry Christmas on their own. That's it.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: Yes.

Well, let's step back, because I did go in talking about what Hillary Clinton was saying about businesses not creating jobs. Now, she dialed that back a little bit, but it comes at a time and in an environment where successful guys like yourselves are vilified.

And -- and it's always assumed, and now cynically, that the success is somehow gotten by ill -- by ill means. How do you respond to that?

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Well, you know, you know, Neil, I have great respect for Bill and Hillary Clinton in many respects.

But that was a terrible thing to say. I remember...

CAVUTO: What do you think she was doing?

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Well, I remember starting out with just one person. I mean, I borrowed everything I could borrow. I mortgaged my house.

Then I got two employees and then four and then eight. Today, we're up to probably 30,000, 40,000 employees, $16 billion in sales. And we have created these jobs. We sent 5,000 of our associates' kids on to college. We have -- we have done everything we could philanthropically.

And when people say that corporations do all this, it's people, it's your heart, it's your feelings. It's just like...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Now, Mitt Romney, remember, he said, another Mormon you might remember...

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Yes, I remember.

CAVUTO: And you talk about him in your book.

He said corporations are people. He was -- he was attacked for that.

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Yes.

CAVUTO: But I always thought, well, why would he be attacked for saying that corporations are run by people, invested in by people, employed people? What do you think the media was saying?

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Well, I think he misstated that.

I think corporations and people are very different. People make corporations whatever it is that they're going to be. They're -- they're - - you know, if they're a charitable organization, if they give a certain amount of their money to good causes, if they're fair, if they're honest, if they're corporations of integrity.

I have talked on your program you over the years about situations involving us where there hasn't been integrity. And we have won huge lawsuits as a result of people breaking their word. I think like Churchill said, without integrity, nothing else matters. With integrity, nothing else matters.

And that's the way it has to be in business.

CAVUTO: Now, you mentioned Mitt Romney. You mention him in your book. You mention maybe he has ill-chosen words there, how it came out. He said on this show -- inelegantly on another crisis.

But I get a sense -- I don't want to get bad blood here -- but that there is no more of the fuzzy feelings between you and Mitt Romney. And I'm wondering if that goes back to the Salt Lake City Olympics, when your son was presumably promised a spot, Jon Jr., to run those Olympics, and it went to Mitt Romney. Does it go back to that?

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Well, it goes back much farther than that.

And, quite frankly, there is a very fine relationship, Neil. I think the press has to some extent in the media and maybe our own families have created some of this. But my father-in-law and Mitt's father grew up together in a small Idaho town over 100 years ago.

CAVUTO: That's right.

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: And I loved Mitt's father.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: And you served with the dad in the Nixon administration.

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: And I served with his dad, with George. And I loved George. And my wife was Mitt's sister's roommate through college.

CAVUTO: That's right.

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Our families are all intertwined.

And I believe during the presidential election, there were a few things said maybe on both sides, certainly against Jon Jr.

CAVUTO: Well, you make it very clear in here -- I don't want to put you in a tough spot -- but you didn't like that whole Salt Lake experience at the time.

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Well, no. I don't think it's -- I didn't like it at all.

CAVUTO: Yes.

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: I mean, we were promised one thing and it turned out to be something else.

CAVUTO: And that was the thing that Romney ran with, built a great political career on it, two runs for the White House.

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: That's right. That's right.

CAVUTO: Do you want to see him run a third time?

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: I don't think Mitt has any interest whatsoever. I think his family went through an enormous ordeal. It took a great deal out of him. And...

CAVUTO: That's not what I asked, though. Would you like him to run?

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: I don't think so.

(LAUGHTER)

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: I think...

CAVUTO: OK.

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: I think Mitt has had his chance. I think he did a terrific job, to the best of his ability.

I think Jeb Bush would be a much better candidate right now.

CAVUTO: Unless this next fellow runs. This might just ring a bell to you, Jon Huntsman Jr., your fine son...

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Well...

CAVUTO: ... the former governor of your wonderful state, our ambassador to China, former presidential candidate.

Governor Huntsman joins me out of Washington.

Governor, good to see you.

JON HUNTSMAN JR. (R), FORMER UTAH GOVERNOR: Hey, Neil.

Those are the nicest words ever spoken about me on your great network.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: Oh, come on. Now, I have had you on many, many times.

(LAUGHTER)

JON HUNTSMAN JR.: I'm just kidding.

CAVUTO: Governor, what did you think of -- your dad, I was saying, brings out in this book a lot of things that are just sort of maybe out of step right now, talking, well, nicely about capitalism, for another, respecting American values.

Something on the left, something on the right has been lost in that sense. Do you agree?

JON HUNTSMAN JR.: Well, I think what he brings out in his book, and I'm so proud of him for what he has done, because it's a book that everybody ought to be reading, just like the last book he did on ethics, which I think is a huge challenge in this country, whether it's on Wall Street or whether it's on Main Street.

But we have lost our sense of optimism. And when I think of my own dad, I think of the great old American frontier spirit that speaks to optimism, the never-say-die attitude. What I took away as a kid growing up in the Huntsman clan, thinking that we'd never have a business at the end of the day was that you hit the wall, you come close to bankruptcy, you pick up the pieces, you move on with a sense that you're going to make it in the end.

And heaven forbid this next generation come up, Neil, without a sense that the old American frontier spirit still runs -- runs pretty strongly through our -- our veins. And whether it's in business or politics, we're about looking to the future and creating breakthroughs.

And we have somehow lost that magic in the marketplace politically -- but particularly in politics. And the book that he has written really does reflect on how important that sense of optimism and that good old American resilient spirit really are to success.

CAVUTO: It sounds to me, Jon, that the governor hasn't heard about this no money, that you're not leaving any money. Or maybe he did and he's OK with it.

(LAUGHTER)

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: I think he's had an opportunity to discuss that with his father, and along with his brothers and sisters.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: Now, we should explain it, for a lot of people who don't you know you have the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. I visited this facility. It's gorgeous. It's stunning. It's a commitment to helping people who can ill-afford care of their own and everyone above. It's a stunning facility.

But you have devoted your life to -- you were in the Forbes -- I remember when I talked to you. You were on the Forbes wealthiest list, and you wanted to get off it.

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Yes.

CAVUTO: And I always wondered how you ran that by the kids at a dinner and how that went down, with the governor included.

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Well, a little indigestion at the dinner.

(LAUGHTER)

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: But Jon Jr., for instance, was our first foundation chairman. He helped me raise the first dollars. He was on the ground floor of the cancer institute.

CAVUTO: That's right.

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Jon Jr. has been an ambassador three times. The thing I liked when he was governor is that he had almost as many Democrat votes, 80 percent, as he did Republican votes.

And he came in with a flat tax. He is the perfect man to be president of the United States.

CAVUTO: But don't you find it suspicious that MSNBC likes him?

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: No.

(LAUGHTER)

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: I think...

CAVUTO: I'm kidding, kidding.

(LAUGHTER)

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: I think it's -- it's -- I think everyone should like him. He has -- he's chairman of the Atlantic Council, which is all of our foreign advisers, and he has a tremendous knowledge of foreign policy.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But I didn't realize, until I read your book...

JON HUNTSMAN JR.: Keep talking. Keep talking.

CAVUTO: ... that Henry Kissinger was -- kind of whispered in his ear, I'm going to go -- I'm going to go to China.

JON HUNTSMAN JR.: He whispered in his ear.

(CROSSTALK)

JON HUNTSMAN JR.: Kind of like the words whispered back in the '60s, it's plastics, that's the future, plastics.

(LAUGHTER)

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: No. You know, when Jon Jr. carried out that bag, Al Haig and I were right there behind him. And nobody in the White House knew where Kissinger was going in July of 1971, when Jon Jr. walked him out there.

CAVUTO: He was greasing the skids for China.

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: And he said -- he said, Dr. Kissinger, excuse me, tell me where I'm going. He said, don't tell anyone, Johnny. I'm going to Beijing. And, you know, Johnny didn't know where that was.

CAVUTO: And right away, he started thinking Mandarin. He took -- he knew what was going on. (CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: I want to ask, though, Jon, on that.

Do you go back -- looking at the Nixon administration, you're such an ethical, up -- righteous guy, as is your son. I'm just wondering, that was an administration, left and right, panned for anything but. And I'm -- you left long before everything hit the fan, I understand.

But what did you think of Nixon? What did you think of the way he acted, some of the crazy things that went behind the scenes?

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Well, Nixon actually, as we all know, had a -- had dual personality.

The personality I worked with, taking him in his papers in, the ingress and egress of his papers, summarizing all of his meetings beforehand, those were tremendous opportunities, Neil. But the thing I respected the most about President Nixon was his kindness to Jon Jr., to his brothers and sisters.

Nixon loved our children. He spent a lot of time with them in the Oval Office. He took them around the White House. He had a lot...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: And at that time, you were -- you had only like 48 kids, right? So it was still early in the...

(LAUGHTER)

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: We were seven or eight or nine...

(CROSSTALK)

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Toward that general range.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: Governor, do you remember much of that, and the exposure that you got from that and that experience that maybe made you consider public life and public runs for office?

JON HUNTSMAN JR.: Well, it left an indelible impact on me in my own life.

Again, we didn't have a family business back in those days. I had a great entrepreneurial dad who had a job where he brought back the company car and got a paycheck with grand ideas.

CAVUTO: Yes, but it was your siblings who would later with the silver spoon. You didn't have that. You didn't have that.

JON HUNTSMAN JR.: Well, but here is -- here is the thing, and here is what you worry about in this great country of ours, the sense that we're taking away the ability for people to achieve success, first generation on to second generation.

CAVUTO: How so? What are you -- what is doing that? What is doing that? Taxes, regulations?

JON HUNTSMAN JR.: Regulations, taxes, class warfare.

We have been through so much the last four years, it really -- have taken away a sense that somebody really is willing then to take a risk in the marketplace, because that's where it all starts. You have got to have somebody like my dad there who is willing to take a risk, which isn't an easy thing to do, the idea you might lose it all.

CAVUTO: Well, let me ask you then, then let me ask your dad then.

Do you think, Jon, given the environment today, you could build this petrochemical empire that you did? Would it be tougher today in this environment to repeat that magic?

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Well, of course it would.

The years of the '70s and '80s and '90s, the regulations were far less onerous. The taxation situation for corporations was on a very different scale. The Obamacare problem has created enormous situations of challenge within corporations.

And I don't know today that we have that great fighting spirit in America that we had, where we could bring people around us. If we knew we didn't have the right people, we would go out and get people who compensated for my shortcomings or our shortcomings. And Jon Jr. and his brothers and sisters were some of those wonderful people that...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But did they all compete with one another? He is a governor, was a governor, presidential candidate, was a national known entity. Your son Pete running one of the largest petrochemical concerns in the world.

Did they compete with each other for your attention or, you know, was everyone just all at each other's throats?

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: No. You know, we got along great.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But Jon Jr. strikes me who as someone who would be at his siblings' throat.

(LAUGHTER)

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: Well, See, he -- he provides that unity that he would provide for the United States of America if he was president, because he has already unified this group.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Oh, I see.

(CROSSTALK)

JON HUNTSMAN SR.: He has this experience of bringing the country together.

JON HUNTSMAN JR.: Listen, growing up in the Huntsman clan...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: He's still working the lever. He's still working the levers, Governor.

JON HUNTSMAN JR.: Yes. Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

JON HUNTSMAN JR.: Work -- listen, yes, you grow up as a natural diplomat in the Huntsman clan. You have got to keep the warring factions from destroying everything.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: It's a great book.

JON HUNTSMAN JR.: But it was...

CAVUTO: Go ahead. I'm sorry, Governor. Finish that thought.

JON HUNTSMAN JR.: Listen, it -- yes, I just -- I just have to say how much I admire and love my dad. It's a great thing to be able to say that your -- your own father is your best friend as well.

And I salute what he has been able to do in the world. And the idea that in one generation, you can build a great business from nothing and leave a lasting humanitarian legacy...

CAVUTO: Not too shabby.

JON HUNTSMAN JR.: ... that has is impacting so many people, like the cancer institute, it's a pretty remarkable journey.

CAVUTO: It is a remarkable journey.

And I'm biased when I say it is a great book. It is a great family. And they are a testament to what is possible in this country. And it all began with that guy.

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