Woman in Leadership Award Winner

The Honorable Elaine Chao

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor and former U.S. Secretary of Transportation

U. S. Secretary of Transportation

U. S. Secretary of Labor

President & CEO, United Way
of America

Director of Peace Corps

Chairman, Federal Maritime Commission

Banker with Bank of America
& Citibank

Harvard Business School Class of 1979, Section C.


The 2022 Woman in Leadership Award winner Elaine Chao is an inspiring, consequential leader who has served in two cabinet positions:  U. S. Secretary of Labor and U. S. Secretary of Transportation.  

History will record that she is the first Asian American & Pacific Islander woman to serve in a President’s cabinet.  The first Kentuckian to be appointed to the President’s cabinet in 56 years, she served 12 years in the cabinet, making her the longest tenured cabinet member since World War II.  
Early Life:
Elaine was born overseas and came to America when she was eight years old, not knowing how to speak English.  She received her citizenship 11 years later when she was 19 years old.   After college, she attended Harvard Business School.  In recognition of her life’s work to ensure that everyone can access the opportunities in this country, she’s been honored with 37 honorary degrees. 

Elaine was initially a banker in the private sector, working as Vice President of Syndications at BankAmerica Capital Markets Group and at Citibank.   Beginning her public service as a White House Fellow, she was promoted in rapid succession to Deputy Maritime Administrator, U. S. Department of Transportation; Chairman, Federal Maritime Commission; and, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation.  

As the former Soviet Union imploded, Elaine Chao was asked to serve as Director of the Peace Corps, where she launched programs in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia and the former republics of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine. 

Following the Peace Corps, Elaine Chao was brought in after a nationwide search of over 600 candidates as the President and CEO of United Way of America to restore public trust and confidence in an organization buffeted by scandal.  By reforming the governance structure and embedding a new culture of accountability and transparency, she led the organization to recovery within four years.  

As Secretary of Labor, Elaine worked to increase the competitiveness of America’s labor force and set new records for workplace health and safety, compensation, and retirement security.

At the U. S. Department of Transportation, Secretary Chao focused on safety and productivity; infrastructure investments; and promoting the safe development of new technologies such as autonomous vehicles, drones, commercial space, high speed rail.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, Secretary Chao’s strong actions kept America’s transportation networks safe, open and moving.

Currently, she’s on the board of Kroger and a number of new technology companies in the mobility space.   She is also a director on a number of nonprofit boards such as Harvard Business School Board of Dean’s Advisors, Harvard Business School Global Advisory Board, Ford’s Theater, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.

Kentucky is proud to claim her as our own.  Elaine Chao lives in Jefferson County.  Please visit her website:  www.elainechao.com.











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