Elaine Lan Chao (趙小蘭 Pinyin: Zhào Xiǎolán) currently serves as the 24th U.S Secretary of Labor. She is the first Asian American woman and first Chinese American to be appointed to the federal cabinet.
Born in Taipei, Taiwan to James S. C. Chao (趙錫成 Zhào Xīchéng), a Shanghainese businessman, and Ruth Mu-lan Chu (朱木蘭 Zhū Mùlán), a historian, Elaine Chao immigrated to the United States at the age of eight, Chao studied economics at Mount Holyoke College and received an MBA from Harvard Business School. She also studied at M.I.T, Dartmouth College, and Columbia University. She is also the recipient of 20 honorary doctoral degrees from colleges and universities across the country.
After a brief stint as a banker with Citicorp, she was selected as a White House Fellow in 1983, working in the Office of Policy Development. While a vice president with BankAmerica Capital Markets, Chao became involved in fundraising for Republican political candidates in California.
In 1986, Chao returned to Washington D.C as Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Maritime Administration in the US Department of Transportation. From 1988 to 1989, she was Chairwoman of the U.S. Maritime Commission.
In 1989, President George H. W. Bush nominated Chao to be Deputy Secretary of Transportation, the number two position in the department. She also served as Director of the Peace Corps from 1991 to 1992.
Following her service in the government, Chao worked for four years as President of the United Way of America. She is credited with bringing credibility and public trust back to the organization after an embarrassing financial mismanagement scandal. From 1996 until her appointment as Secretary of Labor, Chao was a Distinguished Fellow with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think-tank.
All the five children of the Chao family were girls, and four of which are named starting with "Hsiao" (Little): Hsiao-lan (小蘭) (Elaine), Hsiao-mei (小美), Hsiao-pu (小甫), Hsiao-t'ing (小婷), and An-chi (安吉). Lan means "orchid".