DAVID MELTZER had been working for the American Red Cross just a few weeks in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina made landfall near New Orleans. As the new head of the international services department, Meltzer technically wasn't responsible for disasters on the domestic front. But the storm's level of devastation called for an "all-hands-on-deck" response, says Meltzer. "It was the proverbial baptism by fire," or in this case, by water.
Now Meltzer is replacing outgoing Red Cross general counsel MARY ELCANO, who retired at the end of 2012.
As Meltzer takes the helm at the organization's legal department, the Red Cross is playing a prominent role in the recovery from another domestic disaster, Superstorm Sandy. "Sandy is fortunately in some ways less involved than Katrina," says the new GC, "but it covers a far greater geographic area. It requires a 10-state response."
As head of international services, Meltzer has overseen the organization's global disease prevention efforts, as well as the organization's Haiti Assistance Program. He won't be letting go of those duties just because he's becoming general counsel. "My passion's always been for the international work," says Meltzer, "even as a kid." Meltzer earned a B.A. in international relations from the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating from George Washington University School of Law, he worked for Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon and for Barnett & Alagia, both in Washington, D.C. (Mudge Rose was dissolved in 1995.)
Meltzer went in-house more than 20 years ago for Intelsat General Corp., then an intergovernmental organization responsible for spreading satellite communications throughout the world. Over the next 16 years, he led Intelsat's procurement department, navigated its privatization, and ultimately became its general counsel.
Having a wide range of responsibilities is what most attracted Meltzer to his latest position. "One of the things that I've always liked about my jobs is diversity," says Meltzer. As the Red Cross GC, he says, "I'll have one foot in business and one foot in the law."
Meltzer will, however, have to scale back some of his international work. Last year he traveled 100 days, a number that will shrink in 2013.
He will have plenty to keep him busy stateside. In addition to its high-profile disaster relief work, the organization also produces about 40 percent of the nation's blood supply through its donation program. About two-thirds of the Red Cross's work is associated with biomedical servicesthe collection and sale of blood products. "That is an activity that's regulated by the Food and Drug Administration," says Meltzer, noting that a good portion of his attention as GC will be directed toward the FDA.
Outside of the biomedical portfolio, Meltzer will oversee legal matters related to employment, licensing, finance, and commercial contracts for the $3 billion enterprise and its 30,000 employees. Meltzer will also be called upon to head up the Office of Investigations, Compliance and Ethics, tasked with ensuring that all employees, clients, and beneficiaries are properly using donor funds.
How does an organization that's so heavily dependent on donors continue to be effective in a straitened economy? "By making sure that there's quality in what we do, that we don't jeopardize the trust that the public has for us," says Meltzer. "Even in down economies, the public has great trust in the Red Cross."
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