Elaine Chao Biography

(18th United States Secretary of Transportation (2017 - 2021))

Birthday: March 26, 1953 (Aries)

Born In: Taipei, Taiwan

Elaine Chao is an American executive and public servant who is currently serving as the 18th United States Secretary of Transportation in the cabinet of President Donald Trump. She previously served as the 24th United States Secretary of Labor under the George W. Bush administration. Born in Taiwan to Chinese parents, she immigrated to the US at the age of eight and became a naturalized citizen of the country at 19. A Harvard graduate, she began her career as a banker, and after serving in several senior positions in the Department of Transportation, was appointed Deputy Secretary of Transportation by George H. W. Bush. She was the first Asian-Pacific-American to serve in the post, as well as on other positions like Deputy Administrator of the Maritime Administration, Chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission, and Director of the Peace Corps. She has been accused of potential conflicts of interest, both concerning her husband, Kentucky Senator and Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and her father's company, Foremost Group.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Elaine Lan Chao

Age: 70 Years, 70 Year Old Females


Spouse/Ex-: Mitch McConnell (m. 1993)

father: James S.C. Chao

mother: Ruth Mulan Chu Chao

Born Country: Taiwan

Political Leaders American Women

Ancestry: Taiwanese American, Chinese Australian

Notable Alumni: Mount Holyoke College

City: Taipei, Taiwan

More Facts

education: Harvard University, Columbia University, Massachusetts Institute Of Technology, Dartmouth College, Mount Holyoke College

Childhood & Early Life

Elaine Lan Chao was born on March 26, 1953, in Taipei, Taiwan, to historian Ruth Mulan Chu Chao and entrepreneur James S.C. Chao, founder of the shipping company, Foremost Maritime Corporation. The eldest of six daughters, she was born after her parents, who originally met in Shanghai during World War II, relocated separately to Taiwan following the Chinese Civil War.

When she was a child, her father earned a scholarship and moved to New York, where she, her mother and two younger sisters reached following a 37-day freight ship journey in 1961. She had previously attended kindergarten and first grade at Tsai Hsing Elementary School in Taipei, and after the family settled on Long Island, she went to Syosset High School in Syosset, New York.

At the age of 19, she was naturalized as a US citizen, and in 1975, completed her graduation from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. Chao, who had studied money and banking at Dartmouth College during her junior year, later earned an MBA degree from Harvard Business School in 1979.

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Elaine Chao joined as an International Banker at Citicorp in New York in 1979 and worked in that capacity until 1983, when she was granted a White House Fellowship during the Reagan Administration. From 1984 to 1986, she served as the Vice President for syndications at Bank of America Capital Markets Group in San Francisco.

She was appointed Deputy Administrator of the Maritime Administration in the US Department of Transportation in 1986, and became Chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission two years later. She was the national chair of Asians Americans during George H. W. Bush's 1988 Presidential campaign and served as the Deputy Secretary of Transportation for two years in 1989-91 after he won the election.

Serving as the Director of the Peace Corps in 1991-92, she was responsible for the first Peace Corps programs in countries such as Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Moldova. She subsequently took charge as President and CEO of United Way of America following a financial mismanagement scandal, and in the next four years, worked towards building trust and credibility for the organization.

In 1996, she contributed to the political campaigns of her husband, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, and Republican presidential candidate, Bob Dole, and also launched career as a public speaker. The same year, she became a Distinguished Fellow at the conservative think tank, Heritage Foundation, and chaired the foundation's Asian Studies Center Advisory Council from 1998.

President George W. Bush appointed her US Secretary of Labor in 2001, and despite being his second choice, she was the only cabinet member in his administration to serve for the entire eight years. Immediately after appointment, she had to deal with a major West Coast ports dispute, and in 2004, significantly updated the Fair Labor Standards Act to add additional overtime protection for many workers.

In the wake of the mining disasters in 2006-07, which doubled fatality in mining accidents, the Labor Department was heavily criticized for failing to regulate issues like wage and hour law and workplace safety. The Government Accountability Office reported that the Department's Wage and Hour Division inadequately investigated workers' complaints and the Department's Office of Inspector General found that only about one in seven mines were inspected.

After the Bush presidency ended in January 2009, she rejoined her fellowship at the Heritage Foundation and was also a regular guest at various news media outlets, particularly Fox News. She served on the board of directors of various corporate and non-profit organizations, but resigned from the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies in 2015 because it supported the Sierra Club's 'Beyond Coal' initiative.

Her nomination as Secretary of Transportation was announced by President-elect Donald Trump on November 29, 2016, and it was confirmed by the Senate on January 31, 2017. In 2017, she announced the Drone Integration Pilot Program to evaluate various operational concepts and accelerate the safe integration of drones into the airspace system.

In October 2018, Politico revealed that Chao had spent 290 of her working hours in her first 14 months in office on appointments labeled 'private', which the DoT officials defended as a security measure. In April 2019, she formed the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council, an internal deliberative body to identify and resolve jurisdictional and regulatory gaps preventing the deployment of new technology.

She has been accused of promoting her family company, which has extensive business ties with China and Chinese elites, with her father while in office and of attempting to pass laws benefiting the business. She also designated a special liaison to grant applications of political allies of her husband from Kentucky, and when Mitch Behm, Inspector General of the Transportation Department, began investigation into this, Trump swiftly removed him.

Family & Personal Life

Elaine Chao married Mitch McConnell in 1993 after being introduced through Julia Chang Bloch, the first Asian-American US Ambassador and the wife of McConnell's friend, Stuart Bloch. They don’t have any children.

She has actively participated in her husband's political campaigns, which have largely been funded with millions of dollars from her father and her extended family.


Elaine Chao's late mother, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, earned her master's degree in Asian literature and history from St. John's University in New York City when she was 51 years old. The Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center at Harvard Business School was named after her and the Chao family also sponsored scholarships for Chinese origin students at the school with a $40 million donation.

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