Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 15 February 2024

FIGURE THIS OUT AND TELL ME THAT YOU STILL BELIEVE IN AMERICA

 

Angela Chao, C.E.O. of Family’s Shipping Company, Is Dead at 50

Ms. Chao, whose sister Elaine Chao was President Trump’s secretary of transportation, led Foremost Group, operator of a global fleet of carrier ships. She died in a car crash.

Angela Chao standing at a podium dressed in a ball gown, smiling.
Angela Chao at New York City Opera’s Fall Gala at Lincoln Center in 2010. Credit... Adriel Reboh/Patrick McMullan, via Getty Images
Keith BradsherMichael Forsythe

Angela Chao, the chief executive of a shipping company and part of a family prominent in American politics and business deals with China, died in a car crash on Sunday, in Texas. She was 50.

Her family confirmed her death. Details about the accident were not immediately available.

Ms. Chao had since 2018 been the chair and chief executive of the Chao family’s Foremost Group, which operates a global fleet of bulk carrier ships. The vessels are used to transport commodities like iron ore and soybeans.

She was a sister of Elaine Chao, who served as secretary of transportation under former President Donald J. Trump as well as secretary of labor under President George W. Bush. Elaine Chao is married to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader.

The Chao family, led by Angela and Elaine Chao’s father, James S.C. Chao, stands out because of its deep political and commercial ties in both the United States and China. Mr. Chao fled from mainland China to Taiwan in the late 1940s with the defeated Nationalists. He moved to the United States in 1958 and helped found the Foremost Group in 1964. He later cultivated a close relationship with Jiang Zemin, a former schoolmate from Shanghai who rose to become China’s president and who died in 2022.

Ms. Chao, along with her father — both U.S. citizens — was among the few foreigners to have served on the boards of some of China’s largest enterprises. Both were directors of the holding company for China State Shipbuilding, a government-owned enterprise that makes ships for the Chinese military as well as for Foremost Group and other customers. Ms. Chao was also a former board member of the Bank of China, a top lender to the shipbuilder, and a former vice chair of the Council of China’s Foreign Trade, a promotional group created by the Chinese government.

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“Although born in America, she never forgot her roots and throughout her life helped build bridges of understanding between East and West,” Mr. Chao said of his daughter in a statement.

“Losing her at such a young age is something we never imagined, and our entire family is devastated with grief,” he said.

Angela Chao in a multicolor dress and Jim Breyer in a tuxedo standing on the red carpet.
Ms. Chao and her husband, the venture capitalist Jim Breyer, at the Breakthrough Prize Ceremony in Los Angeles last year. Credit... Anna Webber/Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize

The youngest of six daughters, Angela Chao was born in 1973 in Syosset, N.Y., on the North Shore of Long Island, and grew up in Harrison, N.Y., a well-to-do town in Westchester County. She graduated from Harvard College in 1994, completing her studies in three years.

After a brief interlude in finance at Smith Barney, she joined the family business in 1996, later earning an M.B.A. at Harvard Business School. As Foremost Group’s chief executive, Ms. Chao emphasized orders for new, more environmentally sustainable vessels that can burn alternative fuels.

“As a little girl, as I was growing up, I was always fascinated with what my father did,” she said in a 2019 interview.

“I was always really proud to be part of this legacy,” she added.

The Chao family’s business links to China attracted attention when Elaine Chao was transportation secretary under President Trump, who imposed broad tariffs on imports from China. A 2021 report by the Transportation Department’s inspector general said that Elaine Chao had used her office staff to help members of her family, but two divisions of the Justice Department declined to conduct a criminal investigation.

Angela Chao denied in the 2019 interview that Foremost had a focus on China beyond what most dry bulk carriers have in a world in which China is by far the leading manufacturer.

She was an advisory director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York and a member of the Chairman’s Council of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She was also a founding member of The Asian American Foundation, which opposes discrimination, slander and violence against Asian Americans, and was the co-chair of its education committee.

Ms. Chao married Bruce Wasserstein, an American financier, shortly before his death in 2009. She subsequently married Jim Breyer, a venture capitalist in Austin, Texas, who is also a part owner of the Boston Celtics.

The journalist Lally Weymouth said she got to know Ms. Chao around the time of the death of Mr. Wasserstein, consoling her new friend over dinners in Manhattan.

“In this tough town, she was genuine,” said Ms. Weymouth, who is the daughter of the late Katharine Graham, who was publisher of The Washington Post. “She got along with everybody.”

In addition to her father and Elaine Chao, Ms. Chao is survived by three other sisters, her husband and their 3-year-old son.

Siyi Zhao contributed research.

Keith Bradsher is the Beijing bureau chief for The Times. He previously served as bureau chief in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Detroit and as a Washington correspondent. He has lived and reported in mainland China through the pandemic. More about Keith Bradsher

Michael Forsythe a reporter on the investigations team at The Times, based in New York. He has written extensively about, and from, China. More about Michael Forsythe


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