Class Notes – HBS Alumni Bulletin

December 18, 2021Harvard Business School Alumni Bulletin

HBS Alumni Bulletin – December 2021

HBS Alumni Bulletin
December 2021
Harvard Business School

Bill Knoke

Fellow Seers, the HBS Bulletin staff sent me an article on Elaine Chao. Apparently, they have computers that scan the news about us mortals. It featured her appointment to the board of Kroger (a public company and the seventh-largest private employer in the United States). Reading the article reminded me of her lifetime accomplishments: It said she was the first Asian-American woman to fill a US cabinet seat, and she’s the longest-serving U.S. cabinet secretary since World War II. I remember she took over Peace Corps right after HBS, and then United Way. Her full résumé is a book with pages like that. Oh, and we all know she’s married to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Oh, and in her free time, she and her family donated a major building to HBS that was named for her late mother.

So, your correspondent tracked down the tireless Chao and negotiated another HBS Bulletin exclusive. I really just asked her for three insights that made her successful, but she did more. Here’s Elaine’s report:

“Thanks, Bill, for working so hard to get everyone to contribute to the first Alumni Bulletin to come out in hard copy since the pandemic. Content, content, content. Everyone is looking for content! At least you don’t make it up out of whole cloth! [Editor’s Note: sometimes I do.]

“Having stepped down from government after Jan. 6, 2021, I’ve re-affiliated with a think tank. It’s the easiest way to keep in the stream of information and ideas. My husband is still in public service, so I have to be careful of conflicts. I’m on some public and private boards, focusing on new-economy boards, especially in the mobility sector. I have a public speaking schedule and I am returning to help my 94-year-old father with his philanthropic activities. (I am his best volunteer staff!) Most recently, he’s contributed to a major project at National Taiwan Ocean Univ., but due to the pandemic, the project has been a bit delayed. It is my privilege and honor to help my father; he and my late mother have been such wonderfully supportive and empowering parents to their six daughters. He is increasingly frail, and it makes me sad. I wish my sisters’ children could have seen him in his prime: so full of energy, ideas, and determination. He and my late mother were full of goodwill and desire to do good, to help others, to contribute to society. They had such a hard time accessing education when they were young, which is why they were so focused on helping outstanding young people today have the chance to pursue their education. He’s also teaching his daughters about how to grow old gracefully.”

From there, Elaine shared her three insights: “(1) The real treasures in life are priceless: family, faith, the respect and affection of friends and colleagues, and the opportunity to contribute to a better world; (2) people are the key; managing human relationships is the most complex task in life; and (3) live every day with a grateful heart! It actually makes you a happier person! Thanks for being our scribe!”

Elaine’s second insight captured my attention, “People are the key.”  I remember in Aldridge 9 her 20-something smile, always in the front row. I think that she was the only one at HBS that knew the first names of all 800 of us. Or it seemed that way. I recall running into her on occasion, going to Kresge Hall for lunch, and she’d invite me to join her table like I was her best friend. I think she made many feel that way, and it is why we all elected her 1979 class secretary, apparently for life. Even today, she sends out year-end greeting notes. So I’m guessing she knows every Senator on a first-name basis and even crosses the political divide, because she routinely gets confirmed with full bipartisan support. “People are the key. Yes, she benefits from being married to one of the top-placed senators, but I suspect that it is he who benefits the most from his association with her: the tireless Elaine Chao.
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