2009 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"The traits you need for success are vision, courage, determination, confidence, and trust."
James S.C. Chao was born in a small, rural farming village in Jiading District outside Shanghai, China to Yi-Ren Chao and his wife, Yu-Chin Hsu Chao. His parents were subsistence farmers, and his father was also the principal of the village elementary school. An only child, he grew up in 20th century China marked with political instability, societal upheaval, foreign invasions, and civil war where daily existence was fraught with danger, risk, poverty, and instability.
Believing that education would be their son's path to a better life, his parents sacrificed and saved to enable him to attend upper schools near Shanghai. An able student, Chao also won many scholarships. In addition to his stellar academic abilities, he was a popular student leader, a natural athlete, and became the university's table tennis champion in Shanghai. Chao majored in navigation, finished his coursework in 1949, and went to sea as a cadet on a merchant vessel.
While at sea, China's civil war climaxed in the blockade of the port of Shanghai. Unable to return home, Chao's ship headed for Taiwan. He never saw his father again, and it was 24 years before he was finally reunited with his mother following President Nixon's opening of relations with China.
In Taiwan, Chao rebuilt his life. There, he married his wife, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, and they started a family. He advanced with unprecedented speed through the ranks to become one of the youngest sea captains of that time. In 1958, he achieved the highest score (breaking all previous records) on the National Maritime Master's Special Qualification Examination, which resulted in the government sponsoring him for further studies in the United States. Even though his wife was then seven months pregnant with their third child, she unhesitatingly encouraged him to seek better opportunities in America. Chao arrived alone in America the day after Christmas. It took him three years before he was able to save enough money to send for his family to join him. Even so, the only passage he could afford for them was on a cargo ship. After their arrival in New York, the family of five lived in a small one-bedroom apartment and Chao worked three jobs to make ends meet.
In 1964, after graduating with a master's degree in business administration from St. John's University, he founded Foremost Maritime Corporation (now a part of Foremost Group) in New York City. His company was the major agent for shipments of rice to Vietnam during the war, and Foremost carried A.I.D. cargo for the United Nations during the Bangladesh war. Today, Foremost is a well-established, much respected international organization with activities in shipping, trading, and finance.
Active philanthropists and volunteers throughout their life, James and Ruth Chao, through their Shanghai Mulan Education Foundation, awarded thousands of scholarships to students in the United States and China. Chao's many awards and honors include induction into the International Maritime Hall of Fame at the United Nations, recognition by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as an Outstanding American by Choice, and most recently, the recipient of the Lifetime Legacy Award by the International Fellowship Foundation.
James and Ruth Chao were married for 57 years before she returned to the Lord on August 2, 2007. They raised six daughters and have six grandchildren. Chao says, "My wife, Ruth, is the love of my life and soul mate. Together we had an extraordinary life, and I dedicate my Award to her."