Every year the award committee selects a well-known person as the Outstanding 50 event featured speaker. Please scroll down for information about our previous featured speakers.
Elaine L. Chao is the nation’s 24th Secretary of Labor and the first Asian American woman appointed to a President’s Cabinet in U.S. history. Arriving at the age of eight from Asia speaking no English, Secretary Chao’s experience transitioning to a new country inspired her to dedicate most of her professional life to ensuring that people have the chance to build better lives and the opportunity to achieve financial independence.
Under Secretary Chao’s leadership, the Department of Labor has launched a number of initiatives to help traditionally undeserved communities, such as the Asian American community, access opportunity in mainstream America. In 2006, the Department recovered nearly $172 million for over 246,000 workers who did not receive the wages they were due. Many of these workers were vulnerable immigrants employed in low wage industries. Secretary Chao also initiated the annual Asian Pacific American Federal Career Advancement Summit and the annual Opportunity Conference specifically designed to help undeserved communities access greater opportunities in mainstream America. And for the first time ever, in 2002, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported monthly employment data on Asian Americans in a separate, independent category. The Department has also translated numerous labor law materials into multiple languages, including Chinese,Vietnamese and Korean.
Secretary Chao’s career has spanned the public, private, and non-profit sectors. As President and Chief Executive Officer of United Way of America, she restored public trust and confidence in one of the nation’s largest institutions of private charitable giving after it was tarnished by mismanagement and financial abuse.
As Director of the Peace Corps, she established the first Peace Corps programs in the Baltic nations and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. She was also the Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation and Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission. She has also worked in the private sector as Vice President of Syndication at Bank America Capital Markets Group and a banker with Citicorp. Prior to her appointment as Secretary of Labor, she was a Distinguished Fellow with the Heritage Foundation.
Secretary Chao received her M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School and her undergraduate degree in economics from Mount Holyoke College. She is the recipient of 29 honorary doctoral degrees.