Brian Chao ‘08 earned his BSBA from Washington University’s business school in 2012 and his Masters in Accounting in 2013. He worked in internal audit for several years before becoming the CFO at Starkloff Disability Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering people with disabilities to discover and advance in careers they love and educate workplaces and our communities to be more inclusive. In 2019, he was one of the St. Louis Business Journal’s 30 Under 30. Brian has five siblings, three of whom also went to Whitfield: Allison (Chao) Reichart ‘04, Jenny (Chao) Gansner ‘06, and Emily (Chao) Duddy ‘10.
How did Whitfield prepare you for college and beyond?
Whitfield helped me develop the skills and confidence to craft an informed opinion about events and issues in the world. It also helped me feel comfortable sharing these opinions with others and participating in lively debate. Knowing how to engage in respectful conversation set me up well for the real world and for gaining the respect of others. Whitfield also taught me how to collaborate and work well with others and how to be a member of a team. In college, one of my strengths was helping others figure out where they fit best in groups; understanding how to both lead and facilitate has really benefited my career.
I learned these skills outside of the classroom as well. I was able to be involved in multiple activities such as Yearbook, Student Council, Honor Council, and managing the Varsity boys basketball team. This was a unique opportunity at Whitfield: being able to get involved in so many different activities. To this day, I’m not sure how I did all the things I did. You maintain a very active lifestyle at Whitfield, which was so helpful in developing my time management skills.
What were your primary interests and activities while you were at Whitfield?
I was Editor of the Yearbook with Teddy Dozier ‘08, a member of Honor Council, and was President of my class as a sophomore and a junior. I was also the manager of the Varsity boys basketball team in 11th and 12th grade, and I managed the JV team in 9th and 10th grade. I learned so much about myself and working with others through these activities.
What opportunities did Whitfield provide you that you might not have had elsewhere?
The ability to be involved in so many things was invaluable. As a student, your identity IS Whitfield. It allowed me to pursue so many different interests, to develop both soft and hard skills, to feel comfortable with who I am, which many people cannot say middle school or high school provided them. I’ve heard people say Whitfield allows you to become the best version of yourself, and I absolutely believe that is true.
Why did you and your family choose Whitfield?
My sister, Allison, started Whitfield the year before my other sisters and I did. Allison picked the school because she believed it would help her reach her potential. The family’s Whitfield experience was clear from the start: it would be a great fit for each of us for different reasons.
What skills do you use in your career that you began developing at Whitfield?
Teamwork and critical thinking. ‘Critical thinking’ was the main buzz phrase when I started at Washington University’s business school. This was new for many of my classmates, but I was thinking, “of course.” Critical thinking was what I worked on every day at Whitfield through seminars, writing assignments, and both individual and group projects. I learned to speak and actively listen and hone my analytical skills in all of my classes. Whitfield allows you to develop a skill set that is universal and can be applied across fields and to whatever you want. Whitfield never pigeonholed me with my learning or interests.
Describe your career.
I am an accountant by training and worked as an internal auditor in the banking industry for several years. During that time, I became passionate about disability inclusion, particularly in the area of employment. After serving on the Board of Directors for Starkloff Disability Institute for some time, the opportunity arose to work there and use my technical expertise to refine their finances and operations. Over the past several years we’ve increased our fundraising, expanded our programs, doubled our headcount, and become a United Way Safety Net nonprofit partner. My Whitfield education laid the foundation for me to figure out how to combine my skill set with my passion. It is incredibly satisfying to be good at what you are doing and know you are doing good at the same time.