China-US / People

Angela Chao: Upholding Chinese tradition

By Li JING (China Daily USA) Updated: 2015-10-09 11:19

Angela Chao: Upholding Chinese tradition

Angela Chao at Lincoln Center in New York, where she serves on the board for the Lincoln Center China Advisory Council as well as the board of The Metropolitan Opera.

Angela Chao is deputy chairman of Foremost Group, overseeing the company's finance, chartering and ship-management portfolios. She is the youngest of six children and the only one involved in the family's shipping business.

In a meeting room at the international shipping company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan, the soft-spoken Chao looked elegant and beamed when she entered the room.

"I am here not because my parents made me do it. Rather, it is because I love what I do here," she said of her career.

Chao learned about the shipping industry when she was a little girl. She recalled that during school holidays, she would accompany her father to his office for her first glimpses into the exciting world of shipping. It was where she learned how the industry is so vital to world trade, moving goods from those who produce them to those who need them.

"My parents believe that in order for the world to be more harmonious and peaceful - dialogue, exchange, trade, interaction - are all important facilitators. Shipping is a fundamental industry that fosters each of these facilitators to bring the world together," she said.

"This company is not just a commercial enterprise. It represents certain values and principles that my parents believe in and which my parents believe are good for the world," Chao said.

"I have the privilege to work for my father and to see him almost every day," she added. "He teaches me so much every day - not just about the business and the work, but also about how to be a good person, and how to always remember to try to give back."

Dr. James Si-Cheng Chao founded Foremost Group in 1964, after he left his native China to pursue a master's degree in management at St. John's University in New York. Over the years, the company has grown into an international shipping and trading company, managing a modern fleet of environmentally friendly dry bulk carriers and vessels.

"The company has grown nicely over time," Angela Chao said. "I was fortunate enough to join the company the first time after two years in corporate banking after graduating from college. I worked in the company for two years and struggled about leaving to obtain my MBA, but my parents encouraged me to do so as they are firm believers in the transformative power of education."

"I am thankful for my parents' encouragement, support and foresight. As they told me then, a good education is an essential tool in my tool box," she said.

Chao graduated magna cum laude in three years with a degree in economics from Harvard College in 1994. After a short break to start her professional career, she returned to school and got an MBA in 2001 from Harvard Business School.

She said that it's "most important" that "I have the benefit of my parents' philosophical thinking. They have the perspective that this company is not here just to make money. It is here to provide services to the world."

The shipping industry is still a male-dominated business. Chao is relatively young and female, and "I am of Asian descent in America," she said.

Chao rarely takes vacations, and even when she does, she is available 24/7. "If there's something happening, I have to respond," she said.

She believes in her parents' philosophy that you should be always stay busy and that you should give work to a busy person, because busy people are busy for a reason.

Chao was born and raised in the US. Her father once said that Angela, his youngest daughter, can speak the best Chinese in the family.

"My parents' philosophical thinking, which has Chinese roots and values, makes my sisters and me so much stronger," Angela Chao said.

She said her parents regularly asked her and her siblings to learn the Chinese language and cultural traditions.

"When we all sit down to the dinner table, nobody can touch her chopsticks until my father and mother do," she said. "That's the tradition. We value and treasure our Chinese culture and heritage. My parents' core values of humility and modesty and empathy for others, optimism, determination and perseverance are wonderful core values that lead to real happiness."

Chao said many people ask if she considers herself Chinese or American.

"I always feel completely comfortable being both Chinese and American. We always thought, and actually our parents always told us, we had the best of both worlds; we don't have to choose, just take the best of both of them and combine them together," she said.

"That is, to take the traditional Chinese values and our culture's emphasis on education, community and you as a member of a larger whole, and combine that with American individualism, optimism and a can-do attitude," Chao said. "The two of them together can really be unbeatable."

While her eldest sister Elaine Chao is the first American woman of Asian descent to be appointed to a US president's cabinet (she served as labor secretary under George W. Bush), Angela Chao said she has no interest in working in the government.

"I love what I do, and I also have responsibility here to my parents, sisters, as well as to all of my colleagues," she said. "I feel that I can also do a lot from here fostering and supporting US-China exchanges, education initiatives, etc. I have the ability and flexibility to do that here in a way that if I were in government, I would not be able to."

It is important to understand "what you are good at and in what and where you think you can contribute most", she said.

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