The importance of people | Michael Held '92

Michael Held

It was one of the core lessons at Human Ecology – the importance of the people you are working and studying with."

Michael Held '92

In his job as general counsel at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where he oversees a group of approximately 300 lawyers, compliance officers, law enforcement officers and other professionals, Michael Held ’92 taps into his broad range of knowledge about the law and the economy. But some of the most important skills Held says he uses day-to-day, he learned as a human services study major at the College of Human Ecology.

“Technical skills are always going to be important, but really what makes a place hum is being sensitive to the people – the way they work and their needs,” he said. “That’s the skill set I started building at Human Ecology. It was one of the core lessons at Human Ecology – the importance of the people you are working and studying with. Having that sensitivity only becomes more important as you advance in leadership positions in any organization.”

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York is the largest bank in the Federal Reserve System, the U.S. central bank. It is responsible for implementing monetary policy, supervising financial institutions and maintaining core parts of the nation's payment systems. (Fun fact: Its building in Manhattan holds one of the largest repositories of gold in the world.)

“Working at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is unique because it’s part of the government, but not entirely part of the government,” Held said. “It is certainly a mission-driven job, which is important to me. And I get to live in New York City, which I love.

Held’s group provides services to the New York Fed, including legal advice, ensuring compliance with federal laws and security via a cadre of armed law enforcement officers that protect the bank and its employees.

“We’re a partner for the rest of the bank and a guardian for the institution,” he said. “We make sure that everything is done in a well-controlled manner that protects the bank and its people.”

Held found his way to the College of Human Ecology because one of his cousins was already enrolled there. “I visited in the summer, and I thought it was phenomenal,” he said. “Human Ecology had a real appeal because it had the feel of a smaller school. At the same time, it provided access to the resources of the larger university, so you could really delve into anything that struck your fancy.”

And Held was attracted to the idea of a career revolving around helping others. “I’ve always thought – even when I was a little kid– I would want to end up in something that is mission-driven,” he said. “I thought maybe I’d become a social worker or work in a human services organization. I was really trying to get out there and help the underserved.”

A summer internship at a legal services organization inspired him to go to law school at New York University. After a few years working in employment and labor law at New York City firms, he joined the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as a staff attorney. That was 22 years ago.

“What attracted me to the Fed was their mission and the drive of the other employees,” Held said. “The people there could have been working anywhere, and they had chosen to come to the Fed because they wanted to make a difference. There’s no profit motive at the Fed. It’s really about trying to do what’s right.”

This year, Held is part of the team shepherding the bank through the financial crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “First and foremost, our thoughts are with the people on the frontlines of this crisis– the hospitals, EMTs, doctors and nurses,” he said. “That said, the Fed has an important role to play in mitigating the enormous damage to our economy in general and to our livelihoods.

“We’re doing that by pulling out our toolkit, and thinking creatively to come up with new tools as well to mitigate at least some of the harm,” he said. “And we’re trying to do it in a way that is transparent and accountable to the public, and shows that we’re careful with the enormous responsibility we’ve been given.”

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