Jon M Huntsman has become a billionaire in petrochemicals by thinking laterally. 'If I listened to how my textbook academicians tell me how to run things I would have been broke years ago,' he told us during a brief visit to London. Broke he ain't. His Huntsman Chemical Corporation is now the largest private chemical company in the world with annual sales of more than $3 billion. His empire of 40 plants stretching from his native Utah to the Ukraine has been assembled in less than a decade after a series of deals with multinational giants like Shell, Goodyear and Hoechst - who have all been downsizing while Huntsman is busily upsizing. His biggest deal was done jointly in September with Kerry Packer. Together they bought most of Texaco's chemical interests for $1 billion.
His career has also included a flirtation with politics, where he narrowly missed becoming embroiled in the Watergate scandal. He was on Richard Nixon's White House staff in 1971 but resigned two months before the notorious break-in took place.
The White House team of Nixon, H R Haldeman, John Erlichmann - and Huntsman - met again recently at the funeral of Nixon's wife Pat. Huntsman took along his diplomat son and young grandson. This prompted Nixon to relate a story about his own grand-children - how he hated being referred to as 'grandfather'. To resolve the issue he summoned the family together to discuss how the grandchildren should address him. Eventually he said; 'Listen, kids, you can call me anything, because I've been called everything.'