Dr. James Chao
- Founder and Honorary Chairman, Foremost Group
- Member, International Maritime Hall of Fame
- Ellis Island Medal of Honor
- Horatio Alger Award of Distinguished Americans
- Social Enterprise Award from Harvard Business School Club of New York (presented to Dr. Chao and his family by the Dean of the Harvard Business School)
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Outstanding American by Choice
- Museum of Chinese Americans’ Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award (inaugural recipient)
- Chinese American Academic and Professional Society’s Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award
- American Legion Post 1291, New York’s Outstanding Service Award
- U.S.-China Education Trust Leadership and Achievement Award
- The Seamen’s Church Institute’s Silver Bell Award (highest honor in recognition of leadership)
- Massachusetts Maritime College Admiral’s Distinguished Service Award
- SUNY Maritime College Admiral’s Award
- Chinese Institute of Engineers, USA’s Centennial Medal
- Columbia University EPIC Achievement Award (inaugural recipient)
- International Leadership Foundation and New York Young Entrepreneurs Roundtable Distinguished Mentor Award
- Lloyd’s List Americas Lifetime Achievement Award
Out of a lifetime of global accomplishments, professional and community leadership and international recognition, three simple titles are most important to entrepreneur and trailblazer Dr. James S.C. Chao: son, husband and father.
In those roles, and in his professional life, Dr. James Chao has always been guided by his deeply held values: virtue, respect and philanthropy.
Those values, passed on to him by his parents, provided the foundation on which Dr. James Chao built himself – a true leader who always thinks of others first – and his business enterprise, which eventually enabled him and his family to contribute so generously to the lives and education of so many others.
Life for Dr. James Chao began in a small farming village of eight families in rural China. He embraced what he learned from his father, who was an educator, and his mother, who planted and harvested the crops.
Dr. James Chao was also born with considerable natural gifts. Bright, athletic and personable, he was seen as a leader among his peers from a very early age – a distinction that no doubt contributed to the opportunities he received in the form of educational scholarships to the most prestigious institutions of learning in China.
An Epic Love Story
Early in his life as a student, Dr. James Chao met the love of his life, his soulmate: Ruth Mulan Chu Chao – a woman whose life story would eventually inspire Harvard Business School to refer to her as the “beloved matriarch of this most prominent and accomplished Chinese-American family.”
Dr. James Chao and Ruth Chao were introduced in 1949 by friends at the high school from which Dr. James Chao had graduated and Ruth Chao was attending. He was 21 and she was 18.
Their love story was almost cut short by the chaos of regime change in China. But thanks to Dr. James Chao’s tenacity – he searched for Ruth Chao for 18 months after the climax of the Civil War - the two were reunited in Taiwan.
When he found his beloved Ruth Chao, Dr. James Chao quickly asked for her hand in marriage; it was the beginning of a partnership that would prove to be every bit as foundational as Dr. James Chao’s core values. Together, Dr. James Chao and Ruth Chao built both a family and a company that would have wide-ranging, positive impacts across the globe.
The Decision to Come to America
Buoyed by Ruth Chao’s support, Dr. James Chao became the youngest sea captain at the age of 29. The couple then made a brave and important decision: to find a better life, with more opportunity, in America. James took a 4-day national examination, scored #1 and achieved the highest test results ever recorded. Armed with an exit visa but little money and no documentation for his family to accompany him, Dr. James Chao led the way, leaving for America first.
Ruth Chao was seven months pregnant with their third child at the time; she would join Dr. James Chao three years later to settle into a one-bedroom apartment in Queens, New York.
Joyfully reunited as a family, Dr. James Chao continued to study and work multiple jobs. The family was blessed with three more daughters.
Dr. James Chao - Entrepreneurship
It took Dr. James Chao a while to get his master’s degree. First, he couldn’t produce his transcripts which were locked behind Mainland China which had no diplomatic relations with the United States.
After a false start at Columbia in which he was enrolled as an audit student without realizing that audit status does not lead to a degree, he was admitted to St. John’s University and obtained his MBA. Upon graduation, Dr. James Chao started his own company and applied his natural gifts as a creative problem-solver, a visionary, and an innovator to grow his shipping enterprise.
Dr. James Chao’s approach to business, like his approach to life, has always been grounded in core principles and values. A daily dedication to, and focus on, integrity, service and performance served as the foundation for the company. It was the beginning of what would become Foremost Group – a global company that today enjoys an outstanding reputation. It is led by Dr. James Chao’s youngest daughter, Angela Chao (Harvard AB '95 & MBA '01).
“It’s all in the name,” Dr. James Chao recently told Leaders Magazine. Integrity has always been the company’s “most precious asset.”
By maximizing value for customers, providing consistent, excellent service and taking outstanding care of Foremost crews (the “Foremost family”), the business has always lived up to its name.
Dr. James Chao describes the strength of Foremost simply: “If we do our jobs well, people can have the food they need to live and grow, and the basic materials they need to build economies, create jobs and generate prosperity for all. At its core, Foremost works for the public good.”
Chao Family Values
Dr. James Chao’s daughters remember the values they were taught by their parents in childhood as coming down to two key questions:
Are you a good person?
Are you contributing to society?
The answer to both questions, for anyone describing Dr. James S.C. Chao, have always been a resounding “yes.”
Praises of James Chao by dignitaries
"Dr. James Chao, his family and his company are 'an immigrant success story'
– The Wall Street Journal.
“The story of your and Ruth’s life journey offers tremendous inspiration to millions around the world. You both have demonstrated the importance of hope, optimism, hard work, and the enduring value of education.”
– President Jimmy Carter
“You and Ruth raised a wonderful family, and America has benefited from your immigration to this great country…[yours] is a story worth sharing with others, and everyone who learns of your story will be inspired and renewed by your and Ruth’s example.”
– President George H.W. Bush
“An underlying theme of the Chao’s inspirational story is the value they placed on education. They believed that education is the key to a more hopeful tomorrow and encouraged their daughters to dream big dreams and make the most of every opportunity.”
– President George W. Bush
“Your and Ruth’s life journey from China to Taiwan to America is an inspiration for people around the world. It is a story that affirms the power of love and the importance of education in building new lives.”
– President Barack Obama