BOSTON — Harvard Business School (HBS) held a “Topping Off” ceremony at the construction site of a new Executive Education facility—the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center—on Friday, April 24, 2015, signifying the completion of the structural phase of the project. The 30-minute ceremony began at 11:30 a.m. with remarks by Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria; former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao (MBA 1979); Ms. Angela Chao, Deputy Chair, Foremost Group (AB 1994, MBA 2001); and Robert C. O’Leary, Senior Vice President, Lee Kennedy Company, the construction firm building the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center.
The “Topping Off” ceremony is a long-standing tradition in construction derived from an ancient Scandinavian builders’ rite held when the highest beam of steel is hoisted into place with a small tree affixed to “appease the tree-dwelling spirits displaced in its construction.” In the modern-day version, it marks an important milestone in the building process. The entire HBS community, including students, faculty, and staff, along with construction workers, was invited to sign the beam and then watched as it was raised into place.
“This celebration recognizes the remarkable efforts of the construction workers and engineers who braved the worst winter on record in Boston to raise this structure and advance us yet another step closer to realizing the vision of the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center,” said Dean Nohria. “This building will be a focal point for all our visiting executives, and in an increasingly virtual world, the interactions that take place here will be vital to our sense of community.”
Dr. James S. C. Chao, Chairman of Foremost Group and patriarch of the nationally prominent Chao family, said: “We are grateful to be able to help Harvard realize its vision of a greater, more inclusive outreach to the international community at precisely the time when our country is increasingly part of a worldwide economy. We hope the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center will inspire all who enter these doors to develop lasting friendships, foster deeper understanding of other cultures and spur innovative thinking that will help create solutions to global challenges.”
Ms. Angela Chao, Deputy Chair of the Foremost Group and a graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Business School, noted: “We live in an increasingly complex and interconnected world in which a growing number of solutions to global challenges will be addressed by teams that bridge a wide variety of cultures and approaches to problem solving. We hope this center will become an incubator for new ideas that will make a contribution to the global economy and will help create stability, jobs and prosperity for others. My mother, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, would have been so pleased to see this dynamic vision taking shape today.”
“We are so pleased to celebrate this important milestone, the ‘Topping Off’ of the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center, and to thank the hundreds of workers who labored steadfastly over the past year-- and especially during this difficult winter—to bring this project so close to completion,” said the Honorable Elaine Chao (MBA 1979). “As we watch the building take shape on this beautiful campus, we can see even more vividly how this new center will facilitate important interactions among members of the HBS community for generations to come, in the spirit envisioned by our beloved late mother, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao.”
The Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center, a 90,000-square-foot, four-story structure that will contain meeting rooms, office and dining facilities as well as classrooms, is the result of a $40 million gift from a Dr. James Si-Cheng Chao and family foundation. This generous gift was given in tribute to the life and legacy of the late Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, beloved matriarch of this most prominent and accomplished Chinese-American family.
Dr. James S. C. Chao and Mrs. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao’s family is the only family in HBS history to have had four daughters attend the School: The Honorable Elaine Chao, May Chao, Grace Chao, and Angela Chao. This gift was made on April 12, 2012, during the 50th anniversary celebration of the admission of women to Harvard’s two-year MBA program and the 375th anniversary of Harvard University. It will be the first building named after a woman on the Harvard campus and the first building named after an American of Chinese descent. As part of the gift, the Chao family has also endowed the Ruth Mulan Chu and James S. C. Chao Family Fellowship Fund to outstanding students in need.
The new building, designed by the architectural firm Goody Clancy, will open in June 2016 and serve as the gateway to Harvard Business School for the more than 10,000 executives from around the world who attend programs on campus each year. It will also be a vibrant hub that fosters community, enhances collaboration, and increases the connectivity among Executive Education participants, faculty, guests, and students from the School’s MBA and Doctoral programs.
Background on Dr. James S. C. Chao and Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Family:
Respected for their entrepreneurial successes and contribution to philanthropy around the world, Dr. and Mrs. James S. C. Chao and the Chao daughters embody the values of hard work, determination, family, faith and dedication to helping others. Dr. James S. C. Chao and Mrs. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao’s love story is timeless. They met while both were students against the backdrop of 20th-century China, when their ancestral land was devastated by civil wars, foreign invasions and domestic economic upheaval. Yet they maintained their optimism, hope and love for each other.
Accomplished at a very young age, Dr. Chao became one of the youngest sea captains of his time at the age of 29, after earning the top score in national examinations, breaking all previous records. As he immigrated to America to seek greater opportunities for his family, Mrs. Chao-- who was seven months pregnant with their third child-- supported his bold decision and provided the emotional support for him to continue. The family was reunited three years later in America, and Dr. Chao founded what is now the Foremost Group, an international shipping company in New York. A scholar of Asian history and literature and generous philanthropist, who left her mark on all who knew her, Mrs. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao was the mother of six accomplished daughters. Mrs Chao taught her daughters the importance of education by example, when she went back to school and earned a graduate degree in Asian literature and history at the age of 53.