Huntsman: Honesty still matters

Jon M. Huntsman still believes in such basic virtues as honesty and integrity. Given the state of American business, he wishes other executives did as well.

“We’re taught as children not to cut in line. We’re taught manners,” says Huntsman, Chairman of the Board of Overseers at the Wharton School. “Business doesn’t need to be a cutthroat enterprise. You can be a decent person ... and still be very successful.”

In his new book, “Winners Never Cheat” (Wharton School Publishing, 2005), the enormously successful Huntsman—who built Huntsman Corp. into America’s largest family-owned and operated business—makes the case that old-fashioned virtues need not be cast aside in business, politics, medicine, law or day-to-day life.

In the book, he criticizes Wall Street for its greed, corporate lawyers for their shady tactics and CEOs for their princely lifestyles. And while he admits executives face enormous pressures, he does not excuse their ethical lapses. “The environment today for short-term earnings has never been greater, but that’s a rationalization and, in my opinion, a rather pathetic excuse for honorable men and women,” Huntsman says.

Huntsman says living honorably can be good for business—his successes are proof enough of that. But more important than profits or achievements, he says, are the reputations we build through basic kindness and humility. “At the end of our life’s journey, people are not going to talk about how much money we made, or what positions we held,” says Huntsman. “They’re going to talk about our capacity to be gracious, our interest in serving others, and our capacity to be kind and thoughtful to others.”

Originally published on May 12, 2005