James S. C. Chao

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James S. C. Chao
James S.C. Chao.jpg
Born Si-Cheng Chao
(1927-12-29) December 29, 1927 (age 89)
Jiading District, Shanghai, China
Nationality Chinese-American
Occupation Oceangoing Sea Captain
Business leader
Spouse(s) Ruth Mulan Chu
(m. 1951; d. 2007)
  • Elaine
  • Jeanette
  • May
  • Christine
  • Grace
  • Angela
James S.C. Chao and his daughter Elaine Chao met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen at the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan in 2016

James Si-Cheng Chao (Chinese: 趙錫成; pinyin: Zhào Xīchéng; born December 29, 1927) is a Chinese-American merchant mariner, business leader, and philanthropist. He is the founder of the Foremost Group, a New York-based shipping, trading, and finance enterprise. The James S.C. Chao Scholarship is named after him.[2]

Early life, education, and early career[edit]

Chao was born on December 29, 1927[3] in a small, rural farming village in Jiading District, outside Shanghai, Republican 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 upper schools near Shanghai, including National Chiao Tung University and National 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 China's civil war, Chao's ship went to Taiwan, where he started a new life.[5]

In the mid-1950s, Chao advanced through the ranks to become one of the youngest ocean-going marine captains of that time, 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, Queens, in 1964.[5]

Foremost Group[edit]

In 1964, after receiving his MBA, Chao founded Foremost Group, a shipping, trading and finance enterprise based in New York where he remains Chairman to this day.[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]

In July 2014, it was reported that Chao's Foremost Shipping had 15 ships in its fleet, but construction was underway for an additional 8 capesize bulkers.[11] In August 2014, it was reported that the company engaged in the business practice known in the merchant industry as flag of convenience to limit his U.S. tax liability by flagging its ships in Liberia instead of the U.S.. Foremost was singled out in the story because Chao's son-in-law Senator Mitch McConnell expressed disinterest in July 2014 for limiting a similar controversial business practice known as corporate inversion.[12]

In late August 2014, the Ping May, a cargo vessel of Foremost Shipping, was inspected by Colombian officials. They found approximately 40 kilograms (90 pounds) of cocaine hidden among the ship's cargo of coal, which was to be shipped to Europe. The cocaine was found in forty separate packages.[13]


Active philanthropists, Chao and his wife established the Mulan 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.[14]

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.[15] The Center will be a new building dedicated to executive education, the first building on campus named after a woman and of an Asian surname.[16]


Chao was awarded an honorary LL.D. degree from Niagara University in 1992.[17] Chao is the first winner of the Chinese American Academic and Professional Society Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award (2004).[18] He was awarded the "Ellis Island Medal of Honor" (2005).[19] The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Citizen and Immigration Service recognized him in February 2008 as an Outstanding American by Choice.[20]

In 2009, he was inducted into the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.[21] Also, Nyack College conferred upon him the honorary D.Litt. degree.[17] 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 has also served as 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, the highest honor that the University can confer upon any alumnus. Chao continues as its Trustee Emeritus.

Chao has served for more than a decade as Chairman of both the Chiao-Tung University Alumni Association in America and the Chiao-Tung University Alumni Foundation of America from 1988-1999.

Personal life[edit]

Chao first 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.[22] In 1949, each relocated separately to Taiwan at the culmination of the Chinese Civil War,[23] and they married in 1950. In 1958, Chao left behind his then 7-month pregnant wife and two young children when he moved to the United States, where they rejoined him in 1961.[14][20] The Chaos had six daughters: Elaine, Jeanette, May, Christine, Grace, and Angela[24][25] and six grandchildren.[17] Elaine Chao was the 24th United States Secretary of Labor in the Cabinet of President George W. Bush (2001–2009), the first Asian Pacific American woman ever appointed by a President to the Cabinet in American history. She is the 18th United States Secretary of Transportation under the current administration. She is married to the current Majority Leader of the United States Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Ruth Mulan Chu Chao died on August 2, 2007.[26]

See also[edit]


  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. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  3. ^ [1]
  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). Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Chao Family Foundations". 
  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. ^ . Tradewinds. 24 July 2014 http://www.tradewindsnews.com/weekly/341649/Foremost-returns-to-Beihai-for-another-four-capesizes. Retrieved 10 August 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ Kreiter, Marcy (11 August 2014). "Tax Avoidance: Mitch McConnell In-Law Registers His Ships In Liberia To Avoid U.S. Taxes". International Business Times. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  13. ^ Lee, Fang. "Mitch McConnell's Freighted Ties to a Shadowy Shipping Company". The Nation. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  14. ^ a b "Ordinary yet Extraordinary, The Ruth Mulan Chu CHao Story". Asian Fortune. Retrieved June 4, 2013. 
  15. ^ Koch, Katie (October 14, 2012). "Chao family gives $40 million to HBS". Harvard Gazette. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  16. ^ Dension, D.C. (October 12, 2012). "Harvard Business School gets $40 million family donation". Boston Globe. Retrieved March 4, 2013. 
  17. ^ a b c "Dr. James S.C. Chao". The Foremost Foundation. Retrieved March 4, 2013. 
  18. ^ "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. Retrieved 3 March 2013. 
  19. ^ "World renowned Maritime celebrity, Dr. James S. C. Chao visited Fudan University". Fudan University Education Development Foundation. Retrieved 3 March 2013. 
  20. ^ a b "2008 Outstanding American by Choice Recipients". US Citizenship and Immigration Service. Retrieved June 2, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Chao, 2009 Horatio Alger Award Winner". Marine Magazine. Retrieved June 5, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Mrs. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao - Chao Family Foundations". Chao Family Foundations. Retrieved June 19, 2016. 
  23. ^ "James S. C. Chao Chairman Foremost Group New York Class Year: 2009". Horatio Alger Association. Retrieved June 4, 2013. 
  24. ^ "Deaths CHAO, RUTH MULAN CHU". The New York Times. August 8, 2007. Retrieved 3 March 2013. 
  25. ^ United States of America. Congressional Record - Proceedings and Debates of the 110th Congress - First Session. Government Printing Office. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  26. ^ Chao, Elaine. "Ordinary Yet Extraordinary – Ruth Mulan Chu Chao's Story". Asian Fortune. Retrieved March 4, 2013. 

External links[edit]