Media · April 20, 2021

SupChina: Foremost Group CEO Angela Chao on carrying on her family legacy and forging her own path

In this interview, Angela Chao talks about her experience becoming the CEO of Foremost Group, how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the global shipping industry, and her philanthropic efforts.

Angela Chao is the chairman and CEO of Foremost Group, a New York–based shipping company with worldwide operations. Founded in 1964 by her father, Dr. James S. C. Chao, and his late wife, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, the company today is a global leader in the dry bulk shipping industry and has earned a worldwide reputation for its commitment to exceptional service and performance while always holding itself to the highest ethical standards.

Before joining Foremost Group in 1996, Chao worked in the Mergers & Acquisitions Department of Smith Barney, now Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. A frequent speaker at conferences around the world, Chao also serves on a number of public and nonprofit boards.

Chao will speak at SupChina’s Women’s Conference 2021, which is slated to take place virtually on May 12 and 13. Get your tickets here before they sell out!

Prior to the event, we sat down with Chao to talk about her experience becoming the CEO of Foremost Group, how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the global shipping industry, and her philanthropic efforts.

The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

SupChina: Tell us about Foremost Group. What is its focus and vision? How have you integrated your values and mission into the company structure?

Angela Chao: Foremost Group is an American company engaged in international shipping. We are a global leader in dry bulk shipping, which means we transport major dry bulk commodities like wheat, iron ore, and grains. Through the transport of goods, we bring materials from where they are produced to where they are needed, and in so doing, build and feed the world!

The company was started in New York in 1964, and was founded by my father, Dr. James S. C. Chao. But my mother, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, was his full partner, and so even though she did not go into the office like he did, he always raised us to know that she was his full and equal partner. They were a team.

My father studied navigation and was one of the youngest oceangoing captains ever. He is a pioneer in incorporating eco-friendly designs into the Foremost fleet. We now have one of the most modern and environmentally friendly fleets in the world. Our motto is “Honor. Integrity. Performance.” And I am honored to carry on the tradition of what my parents started in Foremost.

I am lucky to have had parents who not only had strong values, but also truly lived deeply values-laden lives. They did not just talk the talk, but they really walked the walk. They were such magnificent examples of leading thoughtful, positive lives where you made a difference where and when you could, and always tried to help people along the way. They were not always in a position to be financially helpful — they were immigrants to America with very little monetarily, and so they always remembered fondly and treasured the kindness that so many people bestowed upon them. And they always made sure to be part of a virtuous cycle to bring more goodness into the world. And they did. They really did.

SupChina: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the international shipping and transportation industry? How did Foremost Group respond to the disruptions and challenges?

Chao: As with all industries and walks of life, the pandemic has impacted us all in profound ways. When COVID-19 first hit, demand for goods and the movement of goods was significantly curtailed with no end in sight. What we were most concerned about was the safety of our employees worldwide and our seafarers. Creating safe work environments, creating robust business continuity plans so we could work effectively from home, etc. were all top of mind.  We had a difficult time getting seafarers repatriated in a timely manner.

SupChina: What sparked your interest in shipping? Tell us something that most people don’t know about the industry.

Chao: One of the things I love most about shipping is that we build bridges around the world. We build bridges over oceans, between nations, and among peoples. Not very many people know this, but over 90% of world trade is seaborne! Without shipping, our lives would grind to a halt.

Shipping is also the first truly international industry, since we crossed oceans to do it! Shipping is the first industry to have had international law, because we were inherently cross-border. So our industry is wonderfully rich in its history and traditions, like one’s word is one’s bond and other such traditions that our fast-paced world could use more of!

SupChina: Did you always know you wanted to be a CEO? What challenges have you faced as a woman in your industry? How have you addressed them?

Chao: I always wanted to make my parents proud. I always wanted to make a positive difference. And as many of your readers and members know well, yes, we faced challenges as women. But I tried to focus on the positives and work from areas of strength or positivity and optimism. I have found that to be much more productive and it generates much more energy and creativity!

SupChina: Tell us about a person who has inspired or mentored you. What key lesson did you learn from them?

Chao: Like my parents, I have many people to thank. Many people do not even know the lessons they have taught me — because I learn so much from people’s subtle actions and anonymous kindnesses. But the people who have most inspired and mentored me are, without question, my parents. They spent a lot of time on me! And with their patience and love, their lives and examples still inform me on how I want to live and how I want to carry myself every day.

SupChina: Outside your business, you serve on the boards of many organizations and are deeply involved in philanthropy. What motivates you to keep doing charity? What’s your mission behind all this work?

Chao: I love my work. I am very lucky that way, but much of why I love it is because I love carrying on my parents’ legacy and values. My parents also cultivated in us a love of learning and a curiosity about all things. So as I learn more, I am curious to learn ever more, and charities are a way of learning and a way of trying to make a positive difference in the world.

I support causes that I love, that have brought me joy, and that I hope will win the hearts and minds of others. While my philanthropy has always had an emphasis on supporting Asian-Americans/Asian issues/causes and women, after the horrific attack on March 16 in Atlanta, it gave me renewed vigor to concentrate my philanthropic giving on AAPI causes. I have asked many organizations with which I have been involved for many years what they are doing for AAPI — how we are dedicating dollars so that the community receives more of that support as well as to highlight the many multifaceted contributions we make to the fabric of our society and communities.

I have found that when we ask the question, it makes the organization think of AAPI causes proactively in a way they have not hitherto. And so it is incumbent upon us to help our organizations bring attention to AAPI and women’s causes — and really SEE them. Then, of course, we must get them to act.

A new initiative I am excited about is that I will be co-chairing the Advisory Council of The Asian American Foundation (TAAF), which is a new 501(c)(3) founded to respond to the rise in anti-Asian hate and violence. Our mission is to “serve the AAPI community in the pursuit of belonging and prosperity, free from discrimination, slander, and violence.” I hope your audience will all be involved and join!


Foremost Group Fleet Expands with Delivery of Another Eco-Friendly Post-Panamax Bulk Carrier, the M/V “Zhen May”

NEW YORK, NY – March 29, 2021 – Foremost Group, an American dry bulk shipping company, today named and took delivery of a new 84,500 metric tons deadweight post-Panamax bulk carrier from Oshima Shipyard in Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan. Foremost Group Founder and Honorary Chairman, Dr. James S.C. Chao, was joined by the company’s Chair and CEO, Ms. Angela Chao, and the ship’s Sponsor, Madame Lu Pi-Lian, wife of Mr. Michael C.S. Chang, Chairman of Taiwan’s Mega Financial Holding Co Ltd, for the ceremony.

This newest eco-friendly post-Panamax ship, the M/V “Zhen May” continues Foremost Group’s tradition of operating a fleet of modern, environmentally-friendly ships built to the company’s stringent specifications, many of which are built by Oshima Shipyard.

The Zhen May will be immediately put in service for Oldendorff Carriers, the ship’s charterer, which will deploy the ship to transport its dry-bulk cargoes to ports around the world.

Ms. Chao commented, “Taking delivery of this beautiful ship is an important reminder that in good times and bad, we shipowners must always do our part to help feed and build the world. Throughout the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, we have maintained our laser focus on serving our charterers with the safe, reliable and efficient transport of their goods. The Zhen May is a welcome addition to our fleet and reflects our continued strong partnership with both Oshima Shipyard and Oldendorff Carriers.”

Foremost Group is an American, privately-owned, shipping company founded in 1964 in New York. The company charters its fleet to world class dry bulk companies which use the ships to move their commodities around the world. Foremost Group’s fleet is comprised of modern, environmentally friendly ships built to the company’s stringent specifications. Learn more at

NEW YORK, NY – Foremost Group Chair and CEO Angela Chao was invited along with many other top American and global corporate leaders to speak at the China Development Forum (CDF).  This year’s other speakers include Tesla’s Elon Musk, Apple’s Tim Cook, Cisco’s Chuck Robbins, Bridgewater Associate’s Ray Dalio, HSBC’s Noel Quinn and many more. The theme of the forum is “China on a New Journey Toward Modernization.”

Ms. Chao will be speaking on two panels; one on vocational education and the second on reform and development of State Owned Enterprises.  The CDF will be held both in person and virtually from March 20-22 at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.

Furthers Foremost Group Commitment to Supporting and Advocating for Crews

NEW YORK, NY – January 26, 2021 – Foremost Group, an American dry bulk shipping company, today announced that it has joined over 300 industry leaders, including shipowners, charterers, crew advocates and other stakeholders, in signing the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change. Signatories of the declaration commit to setting high standards and using best practices to support the wellbeing, health and safety of crew members in the maritime shipping industry.

Foremost Group Chair and CEO Angela Chao commented, “Throughout the pandemic, the world’s more than one million seafarers have delivered extraordinary performance to ensure that everything from raw materials to finished products safely reaches its final destination. In these times, and always, we owe it to each of these men and women to be doing everything we can to ensure their safety and fair treatment both on the sea and ports of call around the world. Foremost Group is proud to have joined such a diverse group in signing the Neptune Declaration and looks forward to continuing to work with our partners in this important effort.”

The Neptune Declaration seeks to:

  • Recognize seafarers as key workers and give them priority access to Covid-19 vaccines
  • Establish and implement gold standard health protocols based on existing best practices
  • Increase collaboration between ship operators and charterers to facilitate crew changes
  • Ensure air connectivity between key maritime hubs for seafarers

For additional information, visit:

For coverage of the Neptune Declaration, visit: Associated Press, BBC, Lloyd’s List, Thomson Reuters and TradeWinds.

Commitment to Save Our Seas Continues to Grow

Carleen Lyden Walker, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the North American Marine Environment Protection Association (NAMEPA) announced today that Foremost Group, an American dry bulk shipping company, has become its newest corporate member. Foremost Group has joined NAMEPA to support and participate with other marine industry organizations in efforts to “Save Our Seas.” NAMEPA now has over 200 members who share in their desire to protect the marine environment.

“NAMEPA is honored to welcome Foremost Group as a member of NAMEPA,” stated NAMEPA’s Carleen Lyden Walker. “Their commitment to the highest environmental practices, as well as to advancing and investing in the mitigation of environmental impacts, is well known.  We look forward to partnering with them to Save Our Seas!”

“As an industry leader in incorporating environmentally friendly designs and policies into everything we do, Foremost Group is proud to join this illustrious organization to support the protection of our marine ecosystem,” said Foremost Group Chair and CEO Angela Chao. Sustainability and stewardship are part of our culture.”

“We look forward to working with NAMEPA and its diverse membership to advance our shared goals and ensure we maintain a safe and clean marine environment for future generations. We believe these efforts are more than just good business; they are a solemn responsibility,” said Vice President Kevin Li.

With growing membership, NAMEPA continues to expand its ability to collaborate with a diverse group of dedicated organizations working to promote sustainable marine industry best practices. NAMEPA welcomes Foremost Group into its collaboration of members, all committed to the stewardship and protection of our seas through corporate social responsibility and through the protection of the marine environment. Committed to being ethically and environmentally responsible, Foremost Group is a respected addition to the membership of NAMEPA.


About Foremost Group
Foremost is a global leader in dry bulk shipping with a worldwide reputation for its commitment to exceptional service and performance, all while holding itself to the highest ethical standards. An industry leader in incorporating fuel-efficient designs and technology, Foremost Group believes that treating the environment with respect is not only a good business practice, but a solemn responsibility. For more information:

The North American Marine Environment Protection Association (NAMEPA) is a marine industry-led organization of environmental stewards preserving the marine environment by promoting sustainable marine industry best practices and educating seafarers, students and the public about the need and strategies for protecting global ocean, lake and river resources. Visit us at:


NEW YORK, NY – On Thursday, October 15, 2020, Foremost Group Chair and CEO Angela Chao took part in Capital Link’s 12th Annual New York Maritime Forum as a keynote speaker.  The event was held in partnership with DNB, and in cooperation with the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq, the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.

Ms. Chao discussed Foremost Group’s more than 50-year history as an American shipping company while addressing the unique value of being a privately-held company that is able to prioritize long-term actions and decisions. This includes the company’s commitment to operational excellence and track record of incorporating fuel-efficient designs and technology in its fleet of modern and eco-friendly dry bulk carriers. Taken together, she explained, Foremost Group has become a trusted, reliable partner for some of the world’s leading blue chip charterers and is well-positioned for growth in the years ahead.

Ms. Chao was joined at the event by other industry leaders, including those from Shell International Trading and Shipping, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and the U.S. Department of Energy, among others.


NEW YORK, NY – On Thursday, February 13, Foremost Group Chair and CEO Angela Chao joined the TradeWinds Shipowners Forum: New York 2020 for a panel discussion with other shipowners focused on the decade ahead in shipping. Joining Ms. Chao on the panel were other industry leaders from Dorian LPG, Ridgebury Tankers, Navig8 America LLC, DNB ASA and Oldendorff Carriers.

During her remarks, Angela touched on a range of topics, including industry challenges and opportunities in the decade ahead as well as the importance of incorporating environmentally friendly designs and technologies in new ships.

Images from TradeWinds – Shipowners Foum New York, February 13, 2020 at New York Yacht Club

For more information on the event, click here:

For more photos of the event, click here:


On Saturday, June 22, Foremost Group Chairperson and CEO Angela Chao received an Honorary Doctorate from Webb Institute, a top-ranked institution specializing in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering located in Glen Cove, NY. Ms. Chao received the Honorary Doctorate at Webb’s 123rd Commencement Ceremony, where she also served as keynote speaker. A press release from Webb Institute is available here and below:

21 Graduate with Dual Degrees in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering from Webb Institute

On Saturday June 22, 2019, Webb Institute awarded 21 Bachelor of Science degrees at its 123rd Commencement Ceremony. Each graduating student received a dual degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.

Webb’s Commencement Ceremony opened with the singing of the National Anthem by the WooFs (Webb Family Singers) and included inspirational remarks from Webb’s President R. Keith Michel, a Webb graduate from the Class of 1973, and keynote speaker, Angela Chao. Ms. Chao is Chairperson and C.E.O. of Foremost Group, an American shipping company with worldwide operations, who received an Honorary Doctorate during the ceremony.

Commencement speaker, Angela Chao, during the ceremony. Photo Credit: Gill Photography.

Ms. Chao’s speech touched on the transformative power of education, drawing upon the inspiration of her parents’ life stories of perseverance, determination and optimism to inspire Webb’s Class of 2019. She exhorted the graduates, “You are our future. Make our industry and our world better!”

Additional remarks were made by the Class of 2019’s student speaker, Andrew Pidduck, who spoke about the invaluable friendships, experiences, and education he gained during his time at Webb. “We appreciate the gift of education and the entire Webb experience that we have received.” said Pidduck. “We will carry it with us always and we will share it with others. This is our responsibility. We promise to remember where we came from and represent Webb well.”

In addition to the awarding of degrees, several students received additional awards and prizes for their outstanding academic achievements in a variety of areas, such as excellence in thesis, excellence in mathematics, highest general average, and exemplary commitment of service to others through volunteerism, community service, and civic outreach.

Following commencement, Webb’s Class of 2019 will spread out across the country and the world to begin graduate work or start their professional careers in the marine industry. Notable employers include: BMT Designers and Planners, Bruce S. Rosenblatt & Associates, Newport News Shipbuilding, NSWC Carderock, Shipwright, and Vigor. Graduate schools include: MIT, University of Michigan, and Delft University of Technology.


On Wednesday, June 20, 2018, Foremost Group Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer Angela Chao received the Pinnacle Award from the Asian American Business Development Center. The award, which recognizes those who have reached the acme of their professional career and are widely acknowledged as leaders in their industry, was presented at the AABDC’s Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business Award Gala held in New York City. A press release issued by AABDC is below:

Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business Award Highlighted Asian Americans Businesses at its Best

NEW YORK, N.Y., June 26, 2018 – The 17th annual Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business Award Ceremony showcased Asian American Businesses at its very best.

As in past years, the Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business Award Gala included a wide array of Asian ethnicities that represent a microcosm of elite Asian American business owners, professionals and corporate executives across the United States. The award committee identifies and selects outstanding leaders who have built a successful business or who have distinguished themselves in their community. Of those, the committee also identifies top Pinnacle Award recipients who have reached the acme of their professional career and are widely acknowledged as leaders in their industry. This year the top two Pinnacle Awardees are Angela A. Chao, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Foremost Group and Vivek Sankaran, President and Chief Operating Officer of Frito-Lay North America.

Angela A. Chao accepted the Pinnacle Award by thanking AABDC and its committee members for bestowing her with such a great honor of the Pinnacle Award. She gave congratulations to AABDC’s Founder and President, Mr. John Wang and the outstanding Dinner Committee for organizing another wonderful evening and successful event! She said, “My father, Dr. James S.C. Chao, Founder and Honorary Chairman of our family company Foremost Group was honored in 2007. I am the youngest of his six daughters, and I am very honored to follow in his footsteps in receiving this award.

“The Asian American Business Development Center does such important work in promoting Asian American business leadership and drawing attention to the many contributions Asian Americans make to our business world and society at large.”

This year’s event followed a successful two-day multicultural business roundtable in January during which John Wang, president of AABDC, announced plans for a New Majority coalition of key minority business groups and a commitment to CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion.

L-R: Angela Chao receives the Pinnacle Award from AABDC CEO John Wang at he 2018 Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business Awards Gala at Cipriani Wall Street in New York, NY on June 20, 2018. (Photo by Stephen Smith/Guest of a Guest)


Growing up in a family of seven women, Angela Chao and her five older sisters rarely considered being female a limiting factor for success.

“My parents raised us to be self-sufficient and productive members of society. Our gender was never an issue,” Chao told Fairplay. “We just took it for granted that we would get an education, work hard in school, and then work hard afterwards to succeed.”

That philosophy paid off. After graduating with an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2001, Chao rose through the ranks of Foremost Group, a New York-based, privately held shipping company started by her father, Dr. James S.C. Chao, and mother, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, in 1964.

In 2018, she was named chairman and chief executive officer of the company, overseeing the management and operations of a dry bulk fleet of five million dwt.

Chao realises, of course, that not everyone receives the kind of support she and her sisters did growing up. “[That] is why I like to speak publicly about the role of women in business. I do think there’s a gender gap that’s represented not only in shipping but in business as whole, as well as a pay gap that goes along with that. It needs to be talked about more.”

Chao has considered shipping a “big, exciting world” for as long as she can remember, with a dose of encouragement from her father. “He used to let me go onboard ships when I was young, complete with a mini hard hat,” she said. “I would check out everything – the bridge, the cargo holds, the ballast tanks. At home, I also loved answering the telephone, because I knew the person on the other end could be anywhere in the world. I found it all very glamorous and fascinating.”

Chao remembers that while her father was technically the head of his company, he always considered her mother not just his wife but an equal partner in the business. “I grew up thinking that’s the way the world was – that women and men should be on equal footing,” she said.

That philosophy found its way into Chao’s adult life as Foremost Group’s onshore workforce is 50% women. “It wasn’t really a conscious decision,” she admitted, “because we have always just been focused on picking the best and brightest.”

Chao considers new and developing regulations to be one of the biggest challenges for the industry, and has the experience to navigate through them. Earlier in her career at Foremost Group she oversaw the implementation of the company’s safety management system to comply with the International Safety Management Code, as well as the fleet’s vessel security plans to comply with the International Maritime Organization’s International Ship and Port Facility Security Code.

Regulatory compliance is made easier when the average age of your fleet – as is the case with Foremost Group – is five years or less. “We’ve always maintained a young fleet and invested in new technologies,” she said.

While she believes that the global sulphur cap deadline in 2020 and carbon emissions reduction to be “extremely important” for shipping, she also noted that meeting these aggressive targets will require forward thinking on the part of all players, not just shipowners.

“We’re very much in favour of reducing our footprint, but one of the questions [regarding the sulphur cap limit] is, will there be enough low sulphur fuel available? We want to do our part, but we’re also going to need the co-operation of the oil majors.”

Speaking on issues that affect shipping comes easy for Chao, but she wants to use her high-profile position to motivate more women to rise in the industry as well.

“I’d like to think I’m making a difference in my own small way, and I hope I can inspire women to strive higher in any business by working hard and having a positive outlook,” she said. “As my mother always liked to say, ‘Don’t complain, prove them wrong’.”

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