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The Secret of Education Philosophy That Even the President of the U.S. Wants to Know

Jan 19, 2017

Nearly 90 years old, Dr. James S. C. Chao was the youngest captain of China and once came in first place in the Master’s mariner examination in Taiwan. After coming to the United States, he worked as a waiter in restaurants, worked two jobs at the same time and went to school for college credits at night. He also established Foremost Group before he turned 37.

The business model of Foremost Group is to build ships based on client’s requirements after finding employment. They don’t blindly look for clients after a vessel is ordered, and they don’t spend a great deal of money on advertisements or marketing either, helping them to control their costs.

The shipping industry has been going through a cyclical downturn in the past couple of years and the leading company in the shipping industry in South Korea, Hanjin, even applied for bankruptcy in the middle of September, 2016. In times like this, Foremost Group shows its special value with its steady and stable business model. Despite the recession, they’re taking in 9 new-buildings between September, 2015 and 2018. Right before the press release of his new biography, Dr. James S. C. Chao and The Honorable Elaine L. Chao were in Japan attending the delivery ceremony of a new building bulk carrier of 85,000 MT dead.

In the past few years, aside from his business, Dr. James S. C. Chao is better known for his family education and in particular, maintaining cultural heritage.

Four of his six daughters went to Harvard University and the other two went to Elite School as well. The most famous daughter of his would naturally be The Honorable Elaine L. Chao, who was the U. S. secretary of Labor during the eight years that George W. Bush was the President of United States. She was the first ethnic Chinese member of the government and the only one that continued to work as Secretary of Labor for 8 consecutive years since WWII.

The Museum of Chinese in America gave the ‘Legacy Award’ to the Chao family six years ago in 2010. This was the first time in 30 years since MOCA was founded that they give one honor to a whole family; president George H. W. Bush once said that he wants his wife to learn how to raise children from Dr. and Mrs. Chao.

Dr. James S. C. Chao has his own philosophy of how to educate his children and how to pass on the culture of his own:

Education comes first

‘I’ve gone from nothing to something, something to many things, many things to a lot of things, and a lot of things to be able to share what I learned; and one important reason for that is education.’ Dr. James S. C. Chao says with his Shanghai accent on the press release event of his new book. Dr. Chao’s father was a primary school principle so even if there was not much money, education always came first for his only child. The reason why Dr. Chao came to United States in the first place was to pursue his higher education.Therefore, the house rule that Dr. Chao sets for his family was ‘Learning comes first and house chores also take priority.’ In the new book he mentions that whenever someone makes a joke about his daughters’ dowry, Mrs. Chao always replies with a short and classic answer ‘Education is their best dowry.’

Combination of the eastern and western culture

Coming from Asia and developing in United States, Dr. James S. C. Chao takes both the thinking of the western and culture and ritual heritage of eastern equally serious. They still have bamboo in their backyard to remind themselves of their roots of China. He speaks Chinese with his daughters, speaks about Chinese philosophy and also celebrates Chinese holidays. Growing up, all the daughters could begin eating dinner after their father moves his chopsticks. Dr. James s. C. Chao mentioned in the book that ‘the world would only become more complicated as it evolves and it would be an advantage to understand one more culture.’ He encourages his daughters to not feel sorry for themselves or feel discriminated even if they live in a foreign country because China also has a lot of good things that is worth sharing with the western world. Seeing how The Honorable Elaine L. Chao gets along with her father, you can strongly feel the influence of the Eastern culture. Despite her heavy work load, whenever she flies to New York, she visits her father and they also exercise and study together. Everyday at 10 pm, she calls her father to remind him that it’s time to go to bed.

Do house chores, and don’t be arrogant

Dr. James S. C. Chao has always asked his daughters to do their own chores, clean the yard, do dishes and make sure that they can always take good care of themselves. When they would move to a new house, the daughters painted the house together; during summer time , they would build up the asphalt driveway of 120 feet; when there were guests visiting, they would need to serve the guests. This is to let the daughters learn how to treat guests and to broaden their vision.

To tell and to show at the same time

Every daughter in the Chao family has to work at Foremost Group for two years. This is to give more time for Dr. Chao to spend more time with his daughters before they go out and develop their own world; on the other hand, it also lets them see how their father does business and treat people, and to show them how to grow things from zero to one and one to a hundred.

The Honorable Elaine L. Chao also spent two years at Foremost at the age of 23. During the two years, she managed to find a Japanese shipyard to build up new buildings, negotiate loans with American banks, brought three new bulk carriers to Foremost Group and a million dollar revenue. ‘It was two of the most interesting years of my life.” Secretary Chao says. The lesson and experiences she gained during the two years prepared her for her later studies at Harvard Business School, and it broadened her horizon. “It was also the first time that me and my father really communicated and got along with each other as “adults”, and that was very important.’ She said.

Give no answer, but choices

Until today, even though all the daughters are in different fields and have grown up, the Chao daughters still have a habit of calling their father for help when something goes wrong.

However, Dr. Chao never gives out answers directly. He would analyze the different strategies with his daughter and often the daughters would find their own answers after the discussion.

“It’s much better than simply telling them the answer.” He says. This is the education policy Mrs. Chao had set up. “You could only solve one problem if you tell them the answer; but if you teach her how to think, you could solve all of them.”

“Growing up, we’ve always believed that our father could handle it had there been any problem. And he could not only handle it, but handle it with art.” The Honorable Elaine L. Chao points out. “It is confidence like this, that makes us children confident and courageous to go out and explore the world and to meet the challenges and hard tasks.”

Hold on, even if you cannot break through

Mrs. Chao loves painting and she once painted on a canvas with a string attached on both ends between the two sticks. There’s a cat holding on to the string tightly so that she wouldn’t fall in to the ocean below. Besides the painting it says “Hold on”.

Dr. James S. C. Chao and Mrs. Chao use this phrase that once inspired them to encourage their daughters. Dr. Chao tells his daughters that even when you’re stuck and can’t go any further, you hold on to something. If you could keep holding on, you might be able to wait until the rescue, the support or the turning point to come.

Until now, The Honorable Elaine L. Chao still keeps an old photo that she took with her parents when they went back to China in the 1980s in her right-hand drawer in the office to encourage herself in the difficult times. “Every time I encounter challenges, I’d think of the trials my parents had faced and how they had suffered at that time. If they could make it through the challenges, so can I.” “Because I am my parents’ daughter.”

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