As the 24th U.S. Secretary of Labor, the Honorable Elaine L. Chao is the first American woman of Asian heritage to be appointed to the United States Presidential cabinet post in American history. Serving from 2001 to 2009, she holds the record for the longest tenure as the Secretary of Labor since World War II.
Elaine Chao came to the United States with her family when she was eight years old, not able to speak the language. Her parents taught her to contribute to society, and that anything was possible in America through education and hard work. She went on to earn an A. B. in economics from Mt. Holyoke College, and a MBA from Harvard Business School. Her early career was in the private sector, serving as a banker with Citicorp, and as Vice President of Syndications at the Bank of America Capital Markets Group. She was selected to receive a White House Fellowship, which led to a career in government. She has served as Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Director of the Peace Corps. Among her accomplishments, she established the first Peace Corps programs in the newly emerging republics of the former Soviet Union and the Baltic states. As U.S. Secretary of Labor, she oversaw record improvements for worker safety and health while promoting higher levels of competitiveness in the American workforce in the global economy.
Secretary Chao has also been recognized for her leadership role in the non-profit sector. As President and CEO of the United Way of America, she restored confidence in an organization that had been tainted by ethical misconduct and financial mismanagement and abuse.
Secretary Chao has received 34 honorary doctorate degrees for her many public and non-profit sector accomplishments, including opening up new pathways for women and Asian Americans. She is a respected thought leader and speaker on many issues of public interest, including employment, workforce training and strengthening America’s competitiveness. Secretary Chao also serves on the boards of public and nonprofit institutions including the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government; the Harvard Business School Board of Dean’s Advisors and Global Advisors; New York Presbyterian Hospital, and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Secretary Chao is married to the Republican Leader of the United States Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and commutes between her home in Louisville and Washington, D. C. She also has the distinction of being the first Kentuckian to serve in a Cabinet position since 1945, and the first Kentucky woman ever appointed to the President’s cabinet.