Elaine Chao (2001–2009)
Elaine Lan Chao was born on March 26, 1953, in Taipei, Taiwan, and immigrated to the United States in 1961. She was raised in Long Island, New York, and attended Syosset High School. She is the daughter of James S.C. Chao, the founder of an international shipping company. She officially received her citizenship at the age of 19 and received a degree in economics from Mount Holyoke College in 1975. Chao then went to receive an MBA from Harvard University.
From 1979 to 1982, she worked in international banking at Citicorp in New York, and she served as a White House fellow in the Domestic Policy Council from 1983 to 1984. When she subsequently moved to San Francisco to serve as vice president to BankAmerica Capital Markets Group, she became active in California Republican politics. In 1986, she was appointed deputy administrator of the Maritime Administration, and she served as national chairman of Asian Americans for Bush/Quayle in 1988. Chao became chairperson of the Federal Maritime Commission in 1988 and then was appointed deputy secretary of the US Department of Transportation in 1989.
President George H.W. Bush appointed Chao to head the Peace Corps in 1991, but when he lost reelection in 1992, her tenure was a short one. In 1992, she was named CEO of the United Way of America, where she restored the reputation in the private charitable institution after prior mismanagement.
In 2001, President George W. Bush nominated Chao as Secretary of Labor. She was the first Asian American woman to hold a cabinet position in US history. Secretary Chao focused on restructuring department programs and modernizing regulations in an attempt to protect and grow the nation’s workforce. She served the entire eight years of the Bush presidency. Following the Bush administration, she resumed her role as a fellow at the Heritage Foundation and served on many boards including Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Dole Food Group, and Wells Fargo. Elaine Chao has many awards and honorary doctorate degrees for her service, and she was awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for public service. She is married to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who served as the Senate Majority Leader.
President Donald Trump nominated Elaine Chao to serve as Secretary of Transportation on November 29, 2016, and the US Senate confirmed her in January 31, 2017.