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We Are No Longer the Center of the Universe

by Peter R. Huntsman

About twenty five years ago, I attended the funeral for my grandfather Huntsman in Fillmore, Utah. It had been some years since I had visited this small, central Utah town. As a youngster, I had visited there many times and always enjoyed the small town feel that was a real novelty for someone who had spent the first twelve years of their life living between Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

During a prayer that was given at the graveside, one of my uncles stated, “Fillmore, being the hub of the universe. . . .”

At the time, I reflected on that comment. My father had been born in Blackfoot, Idaho, only because he was born several weeks premature, altering his father’s plans for having his second son born in Fillmore. The Huntsmans were among the early settlers sent by Brigham Young to the settlement that eventually became the territorial capital of the State of Deseret. James Huntsman, who had joined the Latter-day Saint movement in Kirtland, Ohio, would be the first of five generations to live and die in Fillmore.

I belong to the seventh generation of Huntsmans, and my generation will be the first that none of us have lived in that Utah town, which gave so much to so many of my ancestors. This is in no way a criticism of Fillmore. I drive through every few years and with great pride show my children their ancestral homes, small businesses, and farms. Our diaspora, however, is a sign of the economic times.

When this same uncle [who commented on Fillmore’s status as a hub] was in his thirties and living in Fillmore, the outsiders who came through town were driving between Las Vegas and Salt Lake along US Route 91. At that time, the road curved through town and offered the local cafe a steady stream of traffic. Produce, meat, and beverage came from a fairly tight radius around Fillmore. Virtually all the cars that plied the highways were made in the U.S.; their steel and parts came from U.S. manufacturers. They burned gasoline refined from U.S. oil, most likely from Texas or California. The news would have come from televisions and radios manufactured in the Midwest or from a newspaper reporting events that had transpired a few days before. Banks, for the most part, were locally owned and retirement accounts would have been invested in U.S. companies or government bonds.


There was no need to look beyond the Pacific shores or the Eastern seaports. In the decades following the World War II, the economy of the U.S. dominated the world’s economic activity. The U.S. produced more cars, steel, electronics, and financial services than the rest of the world combined. General Motors was a larger financial entity than the country of Belgium. The U.S. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was greater than the rest of the entire world combined.

I hear many people today referring to the “good old days” of this bygone era or that somehow globalization has come at the expense of U.S. GDP. Some would contend our greatest days as a country are behind us. There is little doubt the U.S., like many developed economies, has its fair share of problems. Our federal budget is operated in a way that if it were a business or family budget, the CEO would most likely be jailed or the family be in bankruptcy. We continue to wage conflicts where there seems to be no definition of victory, and our labyrinth of regulations and byzantine tax structure are indecipherable even by the people who often regulate and write such confusion.

Kwai Chung container terminal in Kowloon.

Nevertheless, our economy continues to create greater wealth, GDP, and a higher standard of living. Our university system is still the envy of the world, and the inflow of immigrants from developed and developing nations number in the millions. As I travel the world, I have asked myself if Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or my father could have started their respective companies in any of the countries I visit. As I examine local conditions, corruption, lending practices, and market openness, I am reminded why the U.S. will continue to be a dominant force in the global economy for many years to come. I also contemplate where the best opportunities are in today’s global economy. While living abroad gives one a huge advantage over someone who has not had such an experience, it is not necessary to succeed. However, having a working knowledge of what is going on around the world is absolutely essential. I can think of very few jobs that are not somehow linked to global trade or market forces. Whether one works for the government, military, a small or large business, your savings, deployments, competition, technology, markets, taxes, revenues, etc. will all be greatly affected by what happens globally.

In 1978, I was fortunate to accompany my parents to China (or Red China as it was suspiciously called by many). We were amazed at the number of containers being prepped for export and the growing plans to boost exports in the coming year. It is interesting to note that China will export and import as much today as it exported the entire year of 1978.

China holds over $3 trillion in monetary reserves. It is now the second-largest economy in the world. Since China’s economic liberalization started in the late 1970s, it has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty as the median income has risen from less than 500 Yuan in 1978 to 20,000 Yuan in urban areas and over 6,000 Yuan in the countryside by the end of this year. China is now the U.S.’s third-largest export market and its third-largest importer of goods. China accounts for the consumption of 35–50 percent of the world’s nickel, tin, lead, zinc, aluminum, and copper. Economic ties between these two great economic powers will only continue to grow to our mutual benefit. The U.S.–China relationship perhaps will be the most vital economic relationship the world has ever seen.

Yet, China, as with much of the developing world, also has its fair share of concerns. Over 200 million people still live in UN-designated relative poverty and over twenty million in absolute poverty. Healthcare spending as a percent of GDP is a fraction of that for the U.S. and Europe. Environmental decay and air contaminates are so bad the U.S. government pays extra hardship salaries for employees living in Beijing. Many state-subsidized businesses will find global competition quite challenging as they leave China and compete—without help—with loans, labor costs, utilities, protected tariffs, and a regulatory playing field that is slanted all too often in their favor. I do not see these massive and ongoing changes as problems as much as they are opportunities. The solution of many of these issues will come from a global market place of new ideas, technologies, and work practices that will only make the global economy more competitive with greater opportunities for those who jump head first into these unprecedented markets.

I recently dined at a salad bar in the ever-expanding airport in Frankfurt, Germany. My mind went back to the meals I enjoyed as a child in Fillmore at the Cafe Ilene, when almost everything on my plate was “local.” I read with silent amazement the casual list of foods and their country of origin. Nuts from Vietnam, dates from the Middle East, mango from India, olive oil from Spain, greens from South America, citrus from the U.S. and South America, and the list went on with over a dozen countries on four continents, all in a simple deli salad bar. The supply chain that furnished this simple salad bar would have been unthinkable fifty years ago, but it is nothing when compared with the global supply chain in any automobile, laptop, or aircraft now in use. And the world will only become more complex and open to greater opportunity and change in the coming years.

To any graduating student from BYU, I would strongly encourage you, no matter what your pursuit may be, to leave Provo and spend the next decade or two in markets and locations that will continue to widen your horizons and make you better equipped to think, interact, and capitalize on this global revolution of economic growth and change. This growth will not come at the expense of the U.S. economy. If we remain open to learn and absorb, it will only reward and give greater opportunity to our GDP and innovation.

This continued education and exposure will also make you better equipped to serve your faith as you learn from other great faiths of the world. You will not only better appreciate what you have but how much we all have in common. It will also train you to better shape the future of your Church as we see more global opportunities and the need to adapt, progress, and change.

In short, we have much to learn, assimilate, and contribute. You are entering a global workplace badly in need of your work ethic, education, and moral fortitude. There has never been a greater time to succeed and to serve than today. The future, quite literally, is yours.

Since 2000 Huntsman has been president and CEO of Huntsman Corporation, a global manufacturer and marketer of differentiated chemicals for a variety of global industries. They have over fifteen thousand employees and contractors with annual revenues of nearly $11 billion. He also helps direct a number of domestic and international humanitarian projects funded by the Huntsman family and Huntsman companies. These projects include a multimillion dollar twenty-year project to rebuild housing in the country of Armenia following an earthquake that killed more than twenty thousand people; relief projects from the 2004 tsunami floods in India, Thailand, and Indonesia; schools in Africa; and scores of initiatives in North America. In addition, he serves on various executive boards for industry, civic, and educational organizations. Huntsman served in the Spain Seville Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and continues to give considerable service to the Church. He and his wife, the former Brynn Ballard, are the parents of eight children and have five grandchildren.