Angela Chao, who led the family shipping company founded by her father and was a leading voice in the US shipping industry, has died in a car accident. She was 50.

Foremost Group, a New York-headquartered owner of bulkers, announced the death of its chief executive and chair on Monday.

She had led the company for six years, after taking the helm from founder James Chao in 2018.

“Angela Chao was a formidable executive and shipping industry leader, as well as a proud and loving daughter, sister, aunt, wife and mother,” the company said.

James, a Chinese-born former sea captain who founded what was then Foremost Maritime in New York in 1964, announced his daughter’s death “with a heavy heart and deep sadness” in a separate family statement.

“Losing her at such a young age is something we never even imagined, and our entire family is devastated with grief,” he said.

James said that Angela, one of his six daughters, was interested in shipping at a young age, recalling her as a “wonderful and inquisitive companion” during the “take your daughter to work” days at the company.

“From an early age, she displayed a delightful precociousness and fierce intellectual curiosity that endeared her to everyone and helped her excel at everything she did,” James said.

Angela Chao (right) and her father, James Chao, are seen in a photo that appeared in TW+ in 2018. Photo: Chao Family Foundations

“As a daughter, sister, mother, aunt, wife and friend, she was unfailingly filial, thoughtful, kind and devoted.”

He also described her as spirited, exceptionally intelligent and compassionate, with a “wonderful” sense of humour.

Angela Chao, chairman and chief of Foremost Group, is seen in a 2010 photo. Photo: Foremost Group

“She kept us laughing and smiling. She believed deeply that the true treasures in life are family, friends and helping others,” he said.

Angela graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College with a bachelor’s degree in economics. She obtained her master’s in business administration from Harvard Business School, where she used her shipping interest and knowledge to write a case study on the industry that is still read by first-year students, her father said.

Angela started working at Foremost in 1996. According to her LinkedIn profile, she became deputy chair of Foremost in 2009, as James led as chief executive.

After she took the top job nine years later, she told TradeWinds that her parents encouraged her and her sisters to be leaders and not to be deterred by “prejudicial comments” they faced because the Chaos only had daughters to take over the company.

“My mother would always say, ‘Don’t get mad. Just prove them wrong. Just do what you are supposed to do and be part of the solution’,” Angela recalled in a 2018 interview.

She noted that all of her sisters have followed that advice in their own fields, including Elaine Chao, who served twice in the US president’s cabinet, once as labour secretary and once as transportation secretary.

Angela Chao (second from left) speaks at the TradeWinds Shipowners Forum USA in 2020. Photo: Johnathon Henninger/TradeWinds Events

That shipping was a male-dominated field was no deterrent.

“Unfortunately, most of the good ones are male-dominated,” she said at the time. “Which is why we have to work very hard to get into them and also pave a road for the generations after us.”

Angela Chao speaks at Connecticut Maritime Association’s Shipping 2015 conference when she was deputy chair. Photo: Chris Preovolos

Foremost said she was a passionate advocate for environmentally sustainable practices.

“That’s why the Foremost Group’s fleet includes some of the largest, most modern and eco-friendly ships in the world,” the company said.

“But most importantly, Angela believed that the foundational element of success is the belief that shipping is not an asset finance business, but that it’s about people.”

Angela was also active outside of the company, serving on the Harvard Business School board of dean’s advisers and setting up the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao and James Si-Cheng Family Fellowship at Harvard College, which is named after her parents.

She was a board member of the American Bureau of Shipping Council and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy’s International Maritime Business Department advisory board.

Angela also served on the chairman’s council of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and as an advisory board member of the city’s Metropolitan Opera.

In addition, she served as a member of the international advisory board of the Hospital for Special Surgery.

James said US-born Angela was also connected to her Asian roots. She served as honorary chair of the Chiao-Tung University Alumni Association in America, co-chair of the advisory council of the Asian American Foundation and a member of the Young Leaders Forum of the National Committee on US-China Relations.

“Angela’s name in Chinese sounds like the characters for peace and prosperity. She certainly gave more than her share of both to this world,” James said.

“Her absence leaves a void not only in our hearts but in the Asian-American community.”