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Chamber to honor Sorenson as ‘giant’

Top award marks great service and achievement

SHARE Chamber to honor Sorenson as ‘giant’
James LeVoy Sorenson

James LeVoy Sorenson

A billionaire. An innovator. An entrepreneur. A father. And now, a giant.

James LeVoy Sorenson will be honored Feb. 15 as the Salt Lake Chamber's 2006 Giant In Our City, the chamber's top award, which recognizes extraordinary public service and professional achievement. Past recipients include Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Huntsman Corp. founder Jon Huntsman Sr.; and Spencer Eccles, chairman emeritus of the Intermountain Banking region of Wells Fargo & Co.

"The Giant In Our City event is an opportunity for people to be inspired by the businesses (Sorenson) has started, for the ingenuity of his intellect and by his creative nature," said Lane Beattie, the chamber's president and chief executive officer. "I believe these are all things that will stimulate success from many, many other Utahns.

"James LeVoy Sorenson is a man whose story just simply needs to be told, and we are honored to be able to do so."

The award event, held at the Grand America Hotel, will boast luminaries in business, media and the community — including publishing magnate Tina Brown, former editor of The New Yorker magazine, and keynote speaker Miles D. White, chairman of Abbott Laboratories, a Fortune 100 company.

Born in Rexburg, Idaho, and raised in a tarpaper shack in Yuba City, Calif., Sorenson sold pharmaceuticals to doctors before co-founding Deseret Pharmaceuticals in 1957. That led to Sorenson Research in 1962 (which was sold to Abbott in 1980), and from there the Sorenson empire was born.

Today, Sorenson is chairman of Sorenson Development Inc., and the Sorenson Companies include 12 enterprises ranging from medical devices to large-scale real estate development to information technology and communications.

These successes have helped Sorenson become one of the richest men in the nation. In 2005, Forbes magazine placed him 56th on its list of the 400 richest Americans, with an estimated net worth of $3.9 billion.

"He is a giant, or a legend, or whatever other names you want to put there connoting a huge presence," said Brian Moss, president of the Utah Life Sciences Association. "If you try to track all the medical device companies in the state of Utah — which are considerable — at least half have his print on them. From financial, to mentoring to inventions and management, I think a lot of how these companies are managed these days have something to do with his pioneering techniques."

In addition to his business success, Sorenson is known for his philanthropic efforts. In 2005, Sorenson Genomics helped identify victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami by collecting tissue and dental samples from the most difficult victims to identify and running DNA analysis.

The non-profit Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation is mapping the DNA of the world's family tree, a daunting mission rooted, Sorenson told the Deseret Morning News, in something quite simple: "The primary goal of the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation is to show all people how closely we are related as members of the human family, so we will treat one another better."

In 2004, Sorenson Media and the Sorenson Legacy Foundation donated $5 million to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., a university for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

Locally, Sorenson was the primary donor for the Sorenson Multi-Cultural Center, and he donated $400,000 for a 1,000-seat, outdoor performing arts pavilion in Herriman. He also gave more than $30 million for the restoration of the LDS Church's Nauvoo, Ill., Temple, which was dedicated in June 2002. The year before that, he formed the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, through which he donated $5 million to the church's Perpetual Education Fund.

"My deepest desire is to be engaged in continually improving the lives of others, through the creation of companies that develop new, innovative products and services and create quality jobs and careers; and through charitable endeavors that produce real results," Sorenson said.

Though the companies are diverse, observers and intimates alike say they all stem from the same place and reflect the man and his mission.

"I think the three qualities I associate most closely with my father would have to be vision, faith and tenacity," James Lee Sorenson said. "Dad has the vision to recognize great opportunities many others miss; the faith to invest time, energy and resources in the ideas and projects he believes in, regardless of what others around him may think; and the tenacity to stick with his vision and projects long after others would have quit."

James Lee Sorenson serves as vice chairman of Sorenson Development and has founded and led several of the Sorenson companies. Though his father, at 84, is still hard at work, James Lee Sorenson said his legacy is already emerging.

"I think my father's lasting legacy on Utah will include tangible and intangible elements," he said. "The tangible elements include the innovative companies he has created and the numerous life-enhancing, lifesaving products and the thousands of jobs that have flowed from them. They would also include the philanthropic projects in which he is involved.

"On the intangible side of the ledger are his example and the influence he has had on the people with whom he has come in contact, and how that influence will impact the lives and contributions of others. But honestly, if you asked my father, I think he would say that his greatest legacy is his posterity."

James LeVoy Sorenson has eight children, 47 grandchildren and a growing body of great-grandchildren.

"In everything, I want to help bring out the best in people and to help them realize their great worth and contribution," Sorenson said. "I want to be known as one who tried throughout his life to empower others."

E-mail: jnii@desnews.com