Neil's Heroes: Jon Huntsman

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," June 7, 2004, that was edited for clarity.

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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Well, you know, never underestimate the simple power of a smile or the persuasive power of a laugh. Who knew that better than Ronald Reagan, who could charm even his sharpest critics? And who knows that better than my next guest, an early Reagan backer and one of his most trusted business confidantes, and as luck would have it, one of my heroes in my book as well, "More Than Money." The man they call Mr. Salt Lake City, and so much more, Jon Huntsman, whose own battles with cancer and difficulties show he has a bit of a touch of that Reagan grit.

Mr. Huntsman, good to have you.

JON HUNTSMAN, HUNTSMAN CANCER INSTITUTE FOUNDER: Thank you, Neil, nice to be with you.

CAVUTO: I think one thing that you and Ronald Reagan certainly have in common is, smile through pain, laugh through difficulty, charge ahead through hard times.

HUNTSMAN: Well, that is kind of you to say. I think certainly it is an attribute that the president had and perhaps the greatest legacy that he leaves with us is how he handled the Alzheimer’s and the cheerfulness and the spirit that Nancy had. And the wonderful example that he gave to the world on how to handle a very difficult and live with a very difficult disease.

CAVUTO: And we forget his good humor that was handling things long before Alzheimer’s came along, the colon cancer he dealt with, I know cancer is certainly your pet cause, but even when he was shot and telling the doctors, I hope you are all Republicans, you have kind of got that style as well, that you believe in just sort of de-tensifying an environment by just having everyone calm down.

HUNTSMAN: Well, Neil, I would not say that but I would say to people who have cancer, and you have had it, Neil, and to those who have MS or other diseases, one of the great cures is not in medicine, but is in their outlook and in their optimism and in their ability to be positive. And you always look at people who have those attributes and qualities. And for one reason or another, they seem to live a little longer and do a little better and be somewhat happier.

And our new cancer hospital that will be opening two weeks from today, and it is attached to our Cancer Institute, it is all entered around hope, and that we change the name of the street to be the Circle of Hope, and everything is centered around bringing hope and cheerfulness to people.

CAVUTO: It is interesting in your case, sort of like Ronald Reagan’s case, when he was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I mean, they didn’t give him much time, not that Alzheimer’s itself can kill you, but some of the related ailments that are attached to it. You knew that very well, you had parents who died of cancer. You had cancer not once but twice, doctors had kind of rolled their eyes and kind of given up a couple of times. But your spirit kind of kept triumphing, kind of again that Ronald Reagan grit, whatever you want to call it. Doctors have never been able to prove that, though, Jon, that whether you have a good spirit, you improve your odds.

HUNTSMAN: Well, doctors haven’t proved it but patients have. And when you know you are going to make it and you have that great spirit that President Reagan always had with him, it didn’t matter where he went, he seemed to carry the spirit, and you carry it with you, Neil, very, very well, and it is a human spirit. It overlies all religions and all backgrounds and all nationalities and it is a spirit of hope and optimism and cheerfulness and perhaps the greatest blessing we can give our families.

And my greatest heroes are those individuals who are upbeat and positive when you know that they have a difficult disease or a difficult ailment. And yet they smile and they are upbeat and you just want to hug them. I go around our chemotherapy units, I try to go every week and I just give patients hugs, I don’t say anything, maybe a tear will be shed or something, but, I just give them a hug and it is wonderful medicine, it is better for me than for them, I’m sure.

CAVUTO: You know, one thing we were talking earlier today when we were doing a book-signing, and you were saying that how important it is to connect with people. And I noticed that the smallest people on your staff, you give them a hearty hello and you treat them very well. Remember they say Ronald Reagan knew the smallest people in the White House, down to, you know, the ushers, to the cooks, he knew them all. And I tend to believe that that is what makes a leader, not how you treat the big boys like yourself, but the folks who serve.

HUNTSMAN: Well, it’s interesting, because the folks down the line are the ones who can make or break somebody, and my father was a rural school teacher, when I grew up in rural Idaho, he was one of four teachers in our little school, and we grew up in a very modest, very, very humble upbringing, and you never forget that.

You can take the boy out of the country but you can never take the country out of the boy. And I look back on our upbringing and think of all of the people and what it meant for a pat on the back and what it meant to put your arms around somebody and to just give them a hug or tell them, job well done. And I saw one of our workers today, he doesn’t speak English, and I said, muchos gracias, Jose, and he gave me a big hug. And it was just wonderful.

CAVUTO: You have very little turnover at your company, which is amazing. And I don’t think it owes to what you pay your people, but how you treat your people. Ronald Reagan, in his administration, had very little turnover, similarity?

HUNTSMAN: Well, President Reagan was just such a gracious, kind and wonderful man, and I first met him in the mid ‘60s, shortly after he — we worked hard to get him elected governor because I lived in California in those days. But he called me and invited me to be on the state board of regents as a young CEO. And we developed a warm friendship over the years.

And it was always fun to be with him because you always felt lifted and you’d leave his presence or a phone call and you would always feel a little taller and feel a little better as a person. And I think all of us have that innate ability, mothers and fathers do, grandparents, grandmothers and grandfathers do, to lift our grandchildren and to lift our children. And even though we may not be feeling well or we may be ill or something, we can do so much to lift others and give them hope and that is what life is all about, Neil, as you have done so very well.

CAVUTO: Well, nothing in your league, but Jon Huntsman, thank you very much. It just — you own the city by the way, it seems.


CAVUTO: But thank you very much, it was a real pleasure, I know it is rare you do interviews, so this was a real treat for us.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you.

CAVUTO: Jon Huntsman.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you.

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