In 1969, Ruth Chao boarded a cargo ship bound for America from Asia. With her three daughters in tow, Chao endured a difficult and sometimes terrifying journey that nearly cost the life of one of her children. After 37 long days over 11,000 nautical miles, they arrived in New York and Chao was reunited with her husband, James Si-Cheng, who had left to seek a better life for his family in America three years earlier.
Today (Oct. 12), Dr. James Si-Cheng Chao and his family foundation announced a $40 million gift to the Harvard Business School. The gift was given in tribute to the life and legacy of his late wife, who he described as “the love of my life and my soul mate.”
Although Chao and his late wife are not alumni of Harvard Business School, four of their six daughters have attended the MBA program at HBS, including former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao who graduated from Harvard in 1979. Mrs. Chao, in fact, received the news of her lymphoma on the day of President Bush’s announcement that he had nominated her daughter, Elaine, to the cabinet post. Yet. she didn’t say a word, not wanting to dampen the happy moment for the family. Ruth fought valiantly for seven years before she succumbed to the disease on Aug. 2 of 2007.
The $40 million gift from this prominent Chinese-American family is among the largest pledges ever made to the Harvard Business School. It follows a $50 million gift from India’s Tata Group and its philanthropic interests in October of 2010. The Tata pledge was the largest gift HBS had ever received from an international donor in the school’s 102-year history and is being used to put up the 34th separate building at Harvard Business School, a new academic and residential building for participants in the school’s executive education programs.
The generous size of the Chao gift places it among the top 20 pledges every made to a graduate school of business (see table of the top gifts at the end of the story) Only 17 other gifts to business schools have been higher. The record was set four years ago when David Booth gave $300 million to the B-school at University to Chicago which renamed the place the Booth School of Business. Booth, a 1971 Chicago MBA, built his investment firm, Dimensional Fund Advisors on principles he learned from Eugene Fama at the school. Last year, Robert and Dorothy King gave Stanford’s Graduate School of Business $150 million in support of social entrepreneurialism, and in 2006, Nike founder Philip Knight gave Stanford $105 million to help the school construct its new campus.
Harvard said the Chao gift will support both students in the MBA program and participants in the school’s executive education programs. Some $5 million of the gift is being used to establish the Ruth Mulan Chu and James Si-Cheng Chao Family Fellowship Fund, which will provide financial assistance to deserving students of Chinese heritage. The remaining $35 million will support the construction of a new Executive Education facility – The Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center. The architectural firm of Goody Clancy will design the new building, which will stand on the site where Kresge Hall now stands. The School plans to break ground for the new building in 2014.
“Ruth and I had an extraordinary life for 60 years before she returned to the Lord,” Dr. James S. C. Chao said in a statement. “I am eternally grateful for the unconditional love, trust and confidence she showed in me throughout our life and for always supporting and encouraging me in all our endeavors. I would like to dedicate this contribution to memorialize and honor my beloved wife and soul mate, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao.”