Huntsman business a political issue

Updated: 2011-06-17 14:19

By John McCormick (China Daily)

Twitter Facebook Myspace Yahoo! Linkedin Mixx

CHICAGO - An early 1970s photo in a Huntsman Corp annual report shows a smiling young Jon Huntsman Jr holding a dozen eggs in polystyrene packaging, an innovation that helped make a fortune for the family business.

The chemical company and Huntsman name would later help the family scion win Utah's governorship, make him a multimillionaire and position him for White House appointments, including that of President Barack Obama's ambassador to China. The company also is fodder for opponents as Huntsman prepares to formally announce his Republican presidential bid next week.

Huntsman Corp's revenue in China surged 57 percent from 2009 to 2010 during his ambassadorship, almost two decades after its entrance there, data compiled by Bloomberg shows. Its expansion in the world's second-largest economy offers a target for rivals when US unemployment is shaping the 2012 presidential race.

"China has become a bigger and bigger issue in recent elections, especially exporting jobs to China," said John Feehery, a Republican strategist in Washington who isn't working with any of the presidential campaigns. "If I were an opposition researcher, I would have a field day with this."

Tepid job creation is poised to be the top issue in the campaign, with the economy struggling to gain strength amid 9.1 percent unemployment following the worst recession since the 1930s. Feehery said that environment could make recent comments by Huntsman's chief executive officer problematic.

Asia's growth

"We now employ more people between China and India than we do in North America, which is really quite phenomenal when you consider that about 90 percent of our associates 10 years ago were in North America," CEO Peter Huntsman, 48, a younger brother of the potential candidate, told an industry conference on June 8.

He was referring to employment in all of Asia when he mentioned those figures, said Gary Chapman, a company spokesman.

"At Huntsman Corp, we have a rich history of creating good American jobs and providing quality American products to the rest of the world," Chapman said in a statement. "Over the years, Huntsman Corp has grown from a small family business into a global corporation that employs thousands of US employees."

Huntsman Corp had 2010 revenue of $9.25 billion and about 12,000 employees worldwide, with about 2,000 of those in the US.

Its chemicals and adhesives are used by a variety of companies, including The Boeing Co, for its new 787 Dreamliner. Before the company went public in 2005, it was the world's largest privately owned chemical producer.

Chinese history

Like many companies, Huntsman Corp has placed greater emphasis on China during the past decade. Now with a presence in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, it has done business in the country since at least 1992, when it opened a technical service center, according to an April 2011 bond prospectus.

Its growth there has been through partnerships with Chinese companies that are typically majority-owned by the government. In May, weeks after Huntsman left his Beijing post to explore a presidential bid, his family's company entered into its latest license agreement with a Chinese company.

An examination of Huntsman Corp and its global expansion illustrates both the benefits and potential liabilities for Huntsman, 51, the eldest of nine children who parlayed the family business into a political career.

Mandarin speaker

He joined the company in 1982, progressing to general manager of its international division before leaving in 1992 to become former US president George H.W. Bush's ambassador to Singapore. He returned as a vice-chairman in 1993 and left again in 2001 as a deputy US trade representative in former president George W. Bush's administration.

Related readings:
Huntsman business a political issue Huntsman reveals plans at China talk
Huntsman business a political issue Huntsman joins US presidential race
Huntsman business a political issue US Ambassador Jon Huntsman leaves China

From mid-2009 to April, he served Obama as ambassador to China, calling on the Mandarin Chinese he learned to speak as part of a Mormon mission on China's Taiwan Island during college.

Huntsman declined an interview request through a spokesman, Tim Miller. "I am proud of my private-sector experience helping to grow our family business into a successful, global enterprise that has created thousands of high-paying American jobs," Huntsman said in a statement provided by Miller.

"The company's global outreach brought capital back to America allowing it to greatly expand the number of American employees."

Bloomberg News


Mom’s the word

Italian expat struggles with learning English and experiences the joys of motherhood again.

Big win

After winning her first major title, Chinese tennis star could be marketing ace for foreign brands

Markers of memories

Axe comes down on historical buildings as part of Harbin government’s baroque programs

Suzhou: Heaven on Earth
The sky's the limit
Diving into history