Elaine Chao, the 24th U.S. secretary of labor, keynoted the ninth annual Krannert Leadership Speakers Series in October with a candid discussion about diversity and the importance of public service.
Arriving in the states at the age of 8 and speaking no English, Chao said her experience as an immigrant inspired a professional life dedicated to ensuring that all people have access to opportunity and the chance to build better lives.
"Faith, hard work, and the kindness of new friends carried my family forward and made it possible for me to become the first Asian-Pacific-American woman to serve in the cabinet of a United States president," she said.
In addition, Chao became the longest-serving secretary of labor since World War II, and the only member of former President George W. Bush’s original cabinet to serve all eight years of his administration. Under her leadership, the Department of Labor achieved record results in promoting and protecting workforce health, safety, wages, retirement security, and competitiveness.
She also made it a top priority to increase and protect U.S. soldiers’ civilian rights by fully implementing the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. Enacted after Desert Storm in 1994, the legislation’s intent was not fully realized until Chao directed the Department of Labor to issue regulations clarifying veterans’ rights and employers’ responsibilities.
"Men and women in uniform work hard on our behalf to protect our freedom and liberty. As they give their best for us, we want to be there for them," Chao said.
Currently a fellow with the Heritage Foundation and a contributor to Fox News, Chao has also found success as president and CEO of United Way of America, where she led one of the nation’s largest institutions of private charitable giving. As director of the Peace Corps, she established the first programs in the Baltic nations and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union.
Boston Scientific was lead sponsor of the 2009 series. Other sponsors were Air Products and Chemicals, Saint-Gobain Containers, WellPoint, Susan and Bob Gadomski, Karl and Kathy Krapek, Accenture, Grow Indiana Media Ventures, Lafayette Printing, and Purdue Alumni.
— Eric Nelson