David Meltzer Steps Up as American Red Cross General Counsel
David Meltzer had only been heading up the International Services Department of the American Red Cross for a few weeks in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina made landfall near New Orleans. The whole organization got involved in the relief effort, he says: It was the proverbial baptism by fire. And now, with the Red Cross playing a prominent role in the post-Sandy recovery, this latest natural disaster is at the fore as Meltzer prepares to take over the organizations legal department.
As the organizations chief international officer, Meltzer has overseen all of the Red Crosss global activities, including disease prevention and the American Red Cross Haiti Assistance Program. He isnt letting go of those responsibilities when he becomes general counsel on January 1. My passion has always been international, even as a kid, says Meltzer, adding that the new job means Im starting to dust off the legal part of my brain.
The soon-to-be GC will, however, have to scale back some of his international work. Last year, he traveled 100 days, a number that will have to shrink in 2013. Once I assume my legal responsibilities, the amount of travel will by necessity get smaller, he says. How much smaller, time will tell.
The Red Cross provides a variety of domestic services, including disaster relief, teaching survival skills, and support for military families. Through its donation program, the humanitarian organization also produces about 40 percent of the supply of blood and blood products in the United States.
Meltzer welcomes the opportunity to have one foot in the business and one foot in the law in his new role.
Before joining the Red Cross, Meltzer spent 16 years at Intelsat General Corporation, where he held both legal and business positions. He was hired as an attorney for the then-intergovernmental organization, led the procurement department, and navigated the entitys privatization before ultimately becoming its general counsel.
Meltzer also previously worked in private practice for Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon and Barnett & Alagia, both in Washington D.C.
About two-thirds of the Red Crosss work is associated with biomedical servicesthe collection and sale of blood products. That is an activity thats 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 licensing arrangements, finance, and commercial contracts. Were a $3 billion enterprise with over 30,000 employees, he says, adding that there are a lot of day-to-day commercial contracts.
In his new new role, Meltzer will also be called upon to head up the Office of Investigations, Compliance, and Ethics. Hell be responsible for ensuring that all employees, clients, and beneficiaries are properly using donor funds.
How does an organization thats so heavily dependent on donors continue to be effective in a down economy?
By making sure we do a good jobthat theres quality in what we do, that we dont jeopardize the trust that the public has for us, says Meltzer. I think the public support for us, even in down economies, is significant because they have such trust in the Red Cross.
Although Meltzer anticipates the work will engaging, he also admits that managing all of the different responsibilities that come with the chief legal officer job will be his biggest challenge. Meltzer will have the help of approximately a dozen lawyers and additional paralegals and support staff, all based in Washington D.C.
Meltzer earned a bachelors degree in international relations from the University of Pennsylvania and a J.D. from George Washington University Law School. He will replace general counsel Mary Elcano, who joined the Red Cross in 2003 and is set to retire at the end of the year.