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The CEO With A Supporting Role

Truman Hunt of Nu Skin Enterprises finds purpose in not just leading people, but nurturing them for success as well.

This is the chief executive who made a grand entrance befitting a rock star at the Utah-based Nu Skin Enterprises’ global convention in the US last year. Wearing cool shades and a superhero-style silver and turquoise trenchcoat while suspended on wires, Truman Hunt descended – fists pumping in the air – onto the stage of a theatre packed with more than 15,000 cheering staff and distributors of the billion-dollar anti-age and wellness products company.

A charismatic leader, Hunt knows how to work crowds with speeches punctuated with humour and stirring statements such as the following, which he announced at a Nu Generation conference in 2011: “Every five days, we are creating a new million-dollar earner… I’m going to celebrate the day when we create a million-dollar earner every single day of the year.” At the company’s 2010 convention, the smooth tenor even sang a self-composed ditty with one of his daughters, while playing the ukulele.

Nu Skin spent $126 million to expand its headquarters in Provo, Utah
Nu Skin spent $126 million to expand its headquarters in Provo, Utah

In person, however, he is quite different from the showman on stage. In place of the flashy costume he wore for the grand entrance last year is a loose-fitting grey suit and an open-collared white shirt that hide his lean physique.

The 55-year-old with salt and pepper hair also speaks in a quiet, measured tone. Leaning back in an armchair in his classically decked out office with plenty of heavy wood detailing and a stone fireplace, he seems more like a reserved, kindly father figure.

And, instead of expounding the ideals of Nu Skin, he talks about appreciating the craft of watchmaking – even though he says he can hardly claim to be a collector. He recalls Raffles Singapore and how it is an architectural gem that reflects the history of the island, and laments the lost art of capturing life and light like the old masters.

Now this is the image more congruous with accounts we’ve heard from Hunt’s staff, who clearly admire him. A director-level executive at the headquarters in Provo, Utah, describes him as a man of his word; a doer who makes things happen. A manager from the Singapore office remembers him packing goodie bags alone, while the staff lunched – unaware of his effort.

Opened last October, the complex is an office building, gym, data centre and laboratory.
Opened last October, the complex is an office building, gym, data centre and laboratory.

FAMILY VALUES
Born into a humble family, he became a hotshot lawyer after graduating with a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Utah. He joined Nu Skin in 1996 as a legal counsel and was appointed CEO as well as president of the 30-year-old New York Stock Exchange- listed company in 2003.

His father was a civil servant. “My dad was a man with a measure of ambition, whose attempts in business failed a couple of times,” says Hunt. But he had a bigger role to play, being a father to seven children, so he put ambition aside and ended up working in state education, in universities, to provide
for his family, adds Hunt.

“Because my father was a professional of modest means, it was not easy to provide for a large family, so my mum worked as well as a library assistant. That, to me, was another important example of a parent’s willingness to sacrifice for his or her children.”

As for Hunt himself, his “children” extend beyond his brood of six. Serving on the advisory boards for the Nu Skin Force for Good Foundation and Nourish the Children Initiative, he is a huge driver of the company’s social projects, which – among other forms of aid – have provided some 350 million Vitameals for underprivileged children around the world since the initiative’s inception in 2002.

“The thought that we feed 120,000 children a day and literally save their lives is very heartening,” says Hunt of the for-profit social enterprise Nourish the Children, which applies business principles to address the problem of hunger in a sustainable manner.

In fact, the Vitameals are produced by Nu Skin and then purchased and donated by the employees, customers and distributors of the company.

Hunt is also a father figure to the larger Nu Skin family, which has expanded from the quiet town of Provo – where the company started in 1984 – to 53 international markets spanning the globe.

He doesn’t just see himself as the leader of the enormous clan, but a facilitator of the members’ personal financial success as well. Even then, he doesn’t refer to the profits he has helped shareholders reap – even though stocks released in 1996 at just under US$30 have steadily risen and hit a high of US$138.66 (S$173.80) last December, since he became CEO.

The lab building is designed to lessen the effect of seismic movements.
The lab building is designed to lessen the effect of seismic movements.

A refocusing on anti-age beauty products and health supplements has also seen the full-year revenue of Nu Skin Enterprises rocket from its US$1-billion stagnation level at the turn of the century to about US$3.2 billion last year.

Also under Hunt’s leadership, Nu Skin has invested more than US$100 million in an Innovation Centre at its headquarters. Launched last October, it is a very high-profile show of the company’s commitment to science-based product development and its positioning at the forefront of innovation.

He even enthuses about being part of a mechanism that offers everyone a low capital- input opportunity to become a financially secure, multimillion- dollar-earning business owner. Why? Well, apart from the virtues of hard work and putting family first, Hunt learnt another lesson from his parents’ struggles when he was young: that fortunes are to be made, not saved.

“I talk to lawyers and doctors, people at the high end of their income level, and all find it difficult to save money,” says the staunch believer in entrepreneurship.

The expansion of Nu Skin’s headquarters was designed by the same firm behind Apple Stores.
The expansion of Nu Skin’s headquarters was designed by the same firm behind Apple Stores.

He emphasises, however, that achieving prosperity is more than about amassing wealth. That’s why the company has developed a Personal Prosperity Calculator app, which gives a person a clearer picture of his financial reality and the level of savings and/or business assets needed for a comfortable retirement.

“The app is a wake-up call,” says Hunt. “Economic hardship is stressful and that’s why most choose not to think about it. I read about people going back to school at the age of 64 and 65, so that they can pick up new skills that will allow them to continue working for the next 20 years.

“What we try to do is to let people enjoy a life of prosperity. This doesn’t necessarily mean you lie on a beach and sip pina coladas. Prosperity to Nu Skin is the opportunity to influence the lives of others in the way we train, motivate, coach and work with them to challenge, as well as expand, their capabilities.

“Life is more meaningful when you are engaged in something more than just the pursuit of profit. At my age, I can look back on life with more perspective. I realise that the meaning of life is to have made a difference in the lives of others.”