Jon Huntsman 2012: Republican Presidential Candidate

From high school dropout to presidential hopeful.

September 20, 2011, 10:04 AM

September 20, 2011 -- On paper, Jon Huntsman's credentials are exactly what one would expect from a presidential candidate: a successful career in state politics, decades of public service and a background in the private sector. But for the former Utah governor, the journey to the 2012 campaign trail was anything but typical.

Jon Meade Huntsman Jr. was born on March 26, 1960 in Palo Alto, Calif., to Jon and Karen Huntsman. Huntsman is the oldest of nine siblings. His father is the founder of Huntsman Corporation, a global chemicals company with approximately 12,000 employees worldwide. His maternal grandfather, David B. Haight, was an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Huntsman Sr. is one of Utah's wealthiest businessmen, with an estimated worth of approximately $1 billion. The family made its fortune several years after Huntsman Jr. was born, and he says one of his earliest memories is making sales calls with his father in Southern California, selling eggs to grocery stores. .

While the Huntsmans have experienced tremendous success, they have also faced their share of adversity. At 16 years old, Huntsman's brother James was kidnapped and held for $1 million ransom before being rescued by the FBI. Huntsman's sister, Kathleen, died of cardiac arrest at the age of 44 after years struggling with drug addiction.

Huntsman's father moved the family to Maryland in 1970, in order to launch the Huntsman Container Corporation, which famously created the "clamshell" container for McDonald's Big Mac. He also joined the Nixon Administration as Associate Administrator of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. While his father worked alongside the president, a 10-year-old Jon Huntsman started a successful lawn-mowing business.

His family later returned to Utah, Huntsman attended Highland High School in Salt Lake City, where he met his future wife Mary Kaye Cooper. In 1978, Huntsman dropped out of his senior year of high school to play keyboards in his band, "Wizard." Huntsman's former bandmate Howard Sharp told Vogue that the former governor was "a practical joker who loved to douse unsuspecting bandmates with a bucket of water or smoke a cigar in the office of someone who couldn't stand the smell."

Huntsman entered the University of Utah the summer after dropping out of high school as a nonmatriculated student. Once he proved himself academically, he enrolled full-time. He became a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity but eventually left the University to embark on a two-year Mormon mission to Taiwan. He began learning Mandarin Chinese, a language he now speaks fluently.

After returning to the United States in 1982, Huntsman began working as an intern for Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. He soon became a staff assistant to President Reagan in Washington, D.C. While there he reconnected with Mary Kaye Cooper, who was also working in the area.

In 1983, the couple drove back to Utah, got engaged on her birthday and married two months later on Nov. 18. Huntsman then joined Huntsman Corporation as project manager and secretary, but stayed connected in politics as the Utah state director for the Reagan-Bush campaign.

In 1985, the Huntsmans' first child, Mary Anne, was born. They would eventually have six more: Abigail, Elizabeth, Jon, William, Gracie Mei, and Asha Bharati. Gracie was adopted from China and Asha from India.

Huntsman transferred to the University of Pennsylvania after Reagan was reelected and finally graduated in 1987 with a degree in International Politics. He soon became the vice president and director of Huntsman Pacific Chemical Corporation and Huntsman International, at which point he decided to move his family to Taiwan.

Huntsman began serving under a second president in 1989 when President George H.W. Bush named him deputy assistant secretary for the Trade Development Bureau of the Commerce Department. The next year, Bush nominated Huntsman to be the deputy assistant secretary of commerce for East Asia and the Pacific. By 1992, Huntsman became the youngest head of a U.S. diplomatic mission in a century when he was named the U.S. ambassador to Singapore.

In 2001, Huntsman was named U.S. trade representative and U.S. trade ambassador by President George W. Bush. In 2003, Huntsman says his family staged an "intervention" for him, as he had been traveling for more than 40 weeks a year. "We want our father back," he said his kids told him. "It's time for you to come home. We think you should run for governor of Utah." Huntsman listened, moving his family back to their home state of Utah to launch a gubernatorial campaign.

Huntsman was elected governor of Utah in 2004, defeating Democrat Scott Matheson Jr. with 57 percent of the vote. During his time in office, Huntsman signed into law the largest tax cut in Utah's history, slashing more than $400 million. He was reelected in 2008 , winning all 29 counties with 78 percent of the vote.

Huntsman left his position as governor in 2009, when President Obama asked him to serve as ambassador to China. Huntsman's diplomatic approach in China was unique, often traveling to events on bicycle rather than the standard limousine motorcade.

When Huntsman told White House officials in January that he would be stepping down from his post as ambassador to China on April 30, rumors swirled about a possible presidential run. At the time he declined to comment on his White House aspirations, as ambassadors are prohibited from participating in political campaigns. Still, key players in his future campaign were raising money as early as January through the Horizon Political Action Committee, including chief strategist John Weaver.

Upon hearing the news that Huntsman was returning to the United States, President Obama joked, "I couldn't be happier with the ambassador's service. And I'm sure he will be very successful in whatever endeavors he chooses in the future. And I'm sure that him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events