Huntsman said the gift was an attempt ``to repay the school,'' which he attended on a full scholarship, for its role in his education and his business success.
``I owe a great debt of gratitude to the Wharton School and to the university,'' Huntsman said in a telephone interview from the Salt Lake City headquarters of his chemical-and-packaging company, Huntsman Corp. He said the company, which has annual revenues of about $5.2 billion, was the nation's seventh-biggest chemical company and the largest that is privately held.
The donation follows two other multimillion-dollar gifts to Wharton from Huntsman. His other philanthropies have included a $90 million pledge to the University of Utah to establish the Huntsman Cancer Institute, which focuses on genetic research.
``This is an extraordinary commitment and a real tribute to the tremendous generosity of Jon Huntsman and his family,'' Wharton dean Thomas P. Gerrity said in a statement.
Robert E. Mittelstaedt, Wharton's vice dean, said it was not yet clear whether the gift would go toward boosting Wharton's $275 million endowment or toward other purposes.
``The amazing part is that it's rare in philanthropy where a donor makes a very large unrestricted gift, who says to the institution, `We don't want to attach strings . . . we simply want you to use it for what's best,' '' Mittelstaedt said.
The Huntsman family has many ties to Penn. Huntsman's brother A. Blaine Huntsman received a doctorate from Wharton in 1968. His sons Jon Jr. and David are Penn graduates, and son Paul plans to begin an MBA program at Wharton in the fall. Two sons-in-law also earned degrees from Wharton. Jon Huntsman Jr. is a member of Penn's board of trustees, as his father was. The elder Huntsman serves on Wharton's board of overseers.
Huntsman, 60, and his wife, Karen, have nine children and 35 grandchildren.
Huntsman, who grew up the son of a schoolteacher in rural Idaho, said he had waited tables and delivered flowers to supplement his scholarship while at Penn in the 1950s. The experience ``taught me the essence of work,'' he said.
Penn is ``a marvelous place, not only for a formal education, but for a social education in the Philadelphia area,'' Huntsman said.
After graduating, Huntsman served in the Navy and went to work for a Los Angeles egg producer, Olson Farms, that in 1965 entered into a joint venture with Dow Chemical Co. The goal was to use plastics to create a new and better egg carton. In 1967, when the venture was foundering, Huntsman took over and made it successful, he said.
It wasn't long before the entrepreneurial bug bit him.
``I began to realize that I could build this kind of a business on my own. Plastics were just starting in America, and the uses of them were skyrocketing.''
The president of Dow inadvertently played a role, Huntsman said, by sending him a book on the company's history. Huntsman underlined the chapter that described how Herbert Dow quit his job at another company to found Dow. Shortly thereafter, he told Dow's top executives that he, too, planned to go off on his own.
``They said, `Well, you'll probably never make it,' '' Huntsman recalled. ``And today, they're my biggest competitor.''
When he and brother Blaine started Huntsman Container Corp. in California in 1970, his Wharton ties didn't hurt. Lacking capital, he amassed $50,000 in start-up funds with bank loans and a second mortgage; both his investment banker and commercial banker were classmates from Wharton.
Huntsman took a brief detour to Washington to serve in the Nixon administration from 1970 to 1972, leaving the new company in his brother's hands. After his return, they moved the business to Salt Lake City in 1973. In the mid-'70s they developed what is arguably their biggest claim to fame: the insulated polystyrene container for McDonalds' Big Mac.
Huntsman sold the company in 1978, but returned to entrepreneurship in 1983 with the founding of Huntsman Chemical. The company was renamed Huntsman Corp. in 1994 after buying Texaco's chemical subsidiary, the largest in a string of 32 acquisitions. With Houston as its operational base, the company has 81 sites in 23 countries worldwide, including a plant in Woodbury, and more than 10,000 employees.
``We produce everything from rubber to the ingredients for soap and detergents and shampoos, to all the plastics used in computers, telephones, cameras, television sets,'' Huntsman said.
``Just about every kind of petrochemical or plastic that is on the market today, Huntsman is a major producer, along with Dow and DuPont and Union Carbide.''