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Business School Names First HBS Building after a Woman, Asian American

UPDATED: Thursday, June 16, at 10:39 a.m.

Harvard Business School officials dedicated the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center last week, marking the first time in the Business School's history that a building has been named after a woman and a person of Asian-American descent.

Shipping and trading financier James Si-Cheng Chao and his family foundation gave $40 million in 2012 to construct the building in honor of his late wife Ruth Mulan Chu Chao. The Chao family also allocated funds for a scholarship program for students of Chinese heritage who attend the Business School.

Of Chao’s six daughters, four attended the the Business School, making the family the only in HBS’s history to have four daughters attend the school, according to a press release. Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao, the oldest daughter of the Chao family, spoke before the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Harvard Business School
Harvard Business School.

“We could not think of a better way to give back to the place that has housed so many members of our family,” Elaine Chao said. “We hope that people will be inspired by the life and spirit of an ordinary yet extraordinary woman.”

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University President Drew G. Faust and University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 joined Business School Dean Nitin Nohria at the event, along with a slew of notable public figures. Among them were Massachusetts senators Elizabeth Warren—a former Law School professor—and Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Governor Charles D. Baker ’79 and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is married to the Elaine Chao.

Many reflected on the humble beginnings of the Chao family, which immigrated from China at the height of the political turmoil of the 20th century.

Markey said the Chao family represented the “quintessential immigrant story” and that their story “inspires us because it is an uniquely American experience.” Warren applauded Chao for raising six successful daughters—a feat that she said she was “awestruck” by after experiencing raising one daughter of her own.

The Chao Center will become a hub for the school’s executive education initiatives, which serve more than 10,000 executives each year, according to the center’s website. At the dedication, Markey joked about the melting pot of individuals who attend these courses, pointing to the recent enrollment of actors Channing Tatum and L.L Cool J for a course at the school.

Musing about the origins of the Business School’s now sprawling campus, Faust said that initial architects of the campus wrote that the area had “no natural beauty in topography and tree growth.” She said that the building would now stand as a “great beauty for Harvard, natural and human made alike.”

—Staff writer Brandon J. Dixon can be reached at brandon.dixon@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonJoDixon.

CORRECTION: June 16, 2016

A previous version of this article stated that the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center was the first building named after a woman in Harvard's history. In fact, there have been other buildings at Harvard named for women, such as Maxwell Dworkin. The Chao Center is instead the first building in the history of HBS that has been named after a woman.

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