James S. C. Chao

James Si-Cheng Chao (Chinese: 趙錫成; pinyin: Zhào Xíchéng; born December 29, 1927) is a Chinese-American businessman. He is the founder of the Foremost Group, a New York-based shipping, trading, and finance enterprise. He is Elaine Chao's father, and Senator Mitch McConnell's father-in-law. The James S.C. Chao Scholarship is named after him.[2]

James S. C. Chao
James S. C. Chao.png
Chao in 2019
Chao Si-Cheng

(1927-12-29) December 29, 1927 (age 94)
Alma materWusong Merchant Marine College (BS)
St. John's University (MBA)
Occupationsea captain
TitleFounder of Foremost Group
(m. 1951; died 2007)
Children6, including Elaine Chao
James S. C. Chao
Traditional Chinese趙錫成
Simplified Chinese赵锡成

Early life, educationEdit

Chao was born on December 29, 1927,[3] in a small, rural farming village called Malu in Jiading County (now Jiading District) outside Shanghai, Republic of China. His parents were Yi-Ren Chao, an elementary school principal, and Yu-Chin Hsu Chao. They were farmers who "emphasized the value of education".[4]

Chao attended schools near Shanghai, including Shanghai Jiao Tong University (formerly National Chiao Tung University) and Wusong Merchant Marine College, where he majored in navigation. He finished his coursework in 1949 and went to sea as a cadet on a merchant vessel. At the climax of the Chinese Civil War, Chao's ship went to Taiwan, where it remained.[5]


In the mid-1950s, Chao advanced through the ranks to become one of the youngest sea captains at the age of 29.[6][7] He moved to the United States in 1958, settling in New York City the same year.[8][9] He received a master's degree in management from St. John's University in 1964.[5]

Foremost GroupEdit

In 1964, after receiving his MBA, Chao founded Foremost Group, a shipping, trading and finance enterprise based in New York.[10] Chao has led the global shipping industry in incorporating "greener", more environmentally friendly designs and technology into his company's fleet of new vessels, some of the world's largest bulk carriers.[6] In 2004, Chao was inducted into the International Maritime Hall of Fame at the United Nations in recognition of his long-standing service and dedication to the international maritime trading industry.[6]

Elaine Chao controversyEdit

Chao's daughter, Elaine, was Secretary of the Department of Transportation in the Donald Trump administration. During that time, she frequently used her office to promote her family's shipping business.[11] For instance, she appeared in at least a dozen interviews with Chao, and she asked DOT staff to promote her father's biography.[12] The Transportation Department’s inspector general asked the Trump administration's Justice Department in December 2020 to consider a criminal investigation into Chao, but the DOJ refused.[11] On March 4, 2021, the DOT Inspector General revealed that Chao had directed her DOT staff to edit the Wikipedia article about her father.[13]

Personal lifeEdit

Chao met his future wife, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, when she and her family relocated to Shanghai from their ancestral estate in Anhui Province during World War II.[14] In 1949, each relocated separately to Taiwan at the culmination of the Chinese Civil War,[15] and they married in 1950. In 1958, Chao left behind his seven-month pregnant wife and two young children when he moved to the United States, where they joined him in 1961.[16][17] Ruth Mulan Chu Chao died on August 2, 2007.[18] The Chaos had six daughters: Elaine, Jeanette, May, Christine, Grace and Angela[19][20] as well as six grandchildren (including three step-grandchildren from Elaine's marriage to Mitch McConnell).[21]

Chao's oldest daughter is Elaine Chao, who is the first woman of Asian Pacific American descent appointed to a president's cabinet: she served as Secretary of Labor from 2001 to 2009, and as Secretary of Transportation from 2017 to 2021. She is married to Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader.

Chao and his wife established the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Foundation in 1984 to provide scholarships to help students in the U.S. and China access higher education and to promote U.S.-China cultural exchanges.[16] In October 2012, Harvard University announced that Chao and his family foundation would donate $40 million to the Harvard Business School for the construction of the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center and the establishment of the Ruth Mulan Chu and James Si-Cheng Chao Family Fellowship Fund.[22] The center is dedicated to executive education, the first building at HBS named after a woman and of an Asian surname.[23][24]

Chao was awarded an honorary LL.D. degree from Niagara University in 1992.[21] Chao is the first winner of the Chinese American Academic and Professional Society Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award (2004).[25] He was awarded the "Ellis Island Medal of Honor" (2005).[26] The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Citizen and Immigration Service recognized him in February 2008 as an Outstanding American by Choice.[17]

In 2009, he was inducted into the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.[27] Also, Nyack College conferred upon him the honorary D.Litt. degree.[21] In 2010, the Museum of Chinese in America honored Chao with its inaugural Outstanding Achievement Award for the Chao Family; the first time ever such an honor has been awarded in its 130 years history.

Chao was an advisor, adjunct professor, and member of the St. John's University Board of Trustees for decades and the recipient of St. John's University's Medal of Honor. Chao continues as its Trustee Emeritus.

Chao was for more than a decade as Chairman of both Taiwan's Chiao-Tung University Alumni Association in America and Chiao-Tung University Alumni Foundation of America from 1988 to 1999.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Mrs. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao". The Foremost Foundation. Retrieved June 18, 2016.
  2. ^ Financial Aid for Asian Americans. Reference Service Press. 2006. p. 349. ISBN 9781588411341. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  3. ^ Men of Achievement. 1983. ISBN 9780900332661.
  4. ^ "Childhood & Family". ElaineLChao.com. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
  5. ^ a b "James S. C. Chao Chairman Foremost Group New York Class Year: 2009". Horatio Alger Association. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  6. ^ a b c "Bio of Dr. James S.C. Chao, The Inaugural CAAPS Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award Winner". Chinese American Academic and Professional Society (CAAPS). 12 October 2012. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
  7. ^ "Chao Family Foundations". 20 May 2013.
  8. ^ Hutchison, Kay Bailey (13 October 2009). Leading Ladies. HarperCollins. p. 359. ISBN 978-0-06-174832-5. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  9. ^ Gall, Susan B. (1 January 1995). Asian American Biography: A-L. UXL. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-8103-9688-3. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  10. ^ "Harvard Business School Building Boom Continues". Harvard Magazine. October 12, 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  11. ^ a b Lipton, Eric; Forsythe, Michael (2021-03-03). "Inspector General's Report Cites Elaine Chao for Misuse of Office". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-03-03.
  12. ^ Snyder, Tanya (May 6, 2018). "Did Elaine Chao's DOT interviews help her family's business?". POLITICO. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  13. ^ Watchdog says Elaine Chao, ex-transpo secretary and Mitch McConnell's wife, misused office including making staff edit her dad's Wikipedia page, Business Insider India, LAUREN FRIAS, March 4, 2021. Retrieved March 5, 2021.
  14. ^ "Mrs. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao – Chao Family Foundations". Chao Family Foundations. Retrieved June 19, 2016.
  15. ^ "James S. C. Chao Chairman Foremost Group New York Class Year: 2009". Horatio Alger Association. Retrieved June 4, 2013.
  16. ^ a b "Ordinary yet Extraordinary, The Ruth Mulan Chu CHao Story". Asian Fortune. Retrieved June 4, 2013.
  17. ^ a b "2008 Outstanding American by Choice Recipients". US Citizenship and Immigration Service. Retrieved June 2, 2013.
  18. ^ Chao, Elaine. "Ordinary Yet Extraordinary – Ruth Mulan Chu Chao's Story". Asian Fortune. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
  19. ^ "Deaths CHAO, RUTH MULAN CHU". The New York Times. August 8, 2007. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  20. ^ United States of America. Congressional Record – Proceedings and Debates of the 110th Congress – First Session. Government Printing Office. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  21. ^ a b c "Dr. James S.C. Chao". The Foremost Foundation. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
  22. ^ Koch, Katie (October 14, 2012). "Chao family gives $40 million to HBS". Harvard Gazette. Retrieved March 3, 2013.
  23. ^ Dension, D.C. (October 12, 2012). "Harvard Business School gets $40 million family donation". Boston Globe. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
  24. ^ Dixon, Brandon J. (June 16, 2016). "Business School Names First HBS Building after a Woman, Asian American". Harvard Crimson. Retrieved January 7, 2020.
  25. ^ "Bio of Dr. James S.C. Chao, The Inaugural CAAPS Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award Winner". bostonese.com English-Chinese Online Journal / 波士顿华人双语网 Largest English-Chinese Bilingual News Magazine in the USA. 12 October 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  26. ^ "World renowned Maritime celebrity, Dr. James S. C. Chao visited Fudan University". Fudan University Education Development Foundation. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  27. ^ "Chao, 2009 Horatio Alger Award Winner". Marine Magazine. 10 February 2009. Retrieved June 5, 2013.

External linksEdit