He’s on the front lines of the economic response to the Ukraine crisis.
Mike serves as the general counsel for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), a London-based multilateral development bank founded in 1990 to provide economic support for the countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe after the Cold War. He leads a team of 160 people as the head of EBRD’s legal department. “We’re a bank run by 71 nations as shareholders, with the U.S. as the largest. We strive to offer creative solutions to the thorny legal problems that arise, while safeguarding of our founding treaty and the values it embodies.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine again in February 2022, Mike’s work has revolved day and night around providing legal remedies for shareholders who seek to discontinue investments in Russia and Belarus, while ramping up support for Ukraine’s immediate and post-war financial needs.
His command of the French language shaped his life trajectory.
Perhaps oddly for someone who works on development in the former Soviet Union, it was his mastery of the French language that led him to work in international development. “The incredibly high level of Country Day’s French instruction influenced my decisions in ways that I’m only now realizing.” Studying under Abner Génecé – who, according to Strauss, was possibly one of America’s best high school French teachers – like many classmates, he left his class fluent.
Strauss studied political science at Williams College. “I thought a lot about coming back to Cincinnati and working on issues similar to those my father did [Pete Strauss, CCDS ‘59, former vice mayor of Cincinnati], but French opened up an entirely different opportunity to make a difference in addressing poverty around the world.”
He applied to study international relations at Fletcher because “I wanted to be a lawyer engaged on some of the most pressing global questions about competing rights and obligations, and making the world a better place, especially in international environmental policy.” That’s when life threw him a curve ball. “I got to school and somehow became obsessed with international macroeconomics.”
After graduating from Fletcher and then law school at Stanford, he went to London to practice capital markets and corporate law, and although he found the work dull, he learned how to be a lawyer and met some incredibly able and brilliant people. “Eventually, the firm sent me to Paris because they needed American lawyers who could work entirely in French. The work was even more intense, but I had little passion for it, so I spent every free minute looking for a more mission-focused job where I could deploy my new skills more usefully.” That’s when he got a job as a lawyer for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), working on Iraq’s post-war sovereign debt restructuring and other projects at the intersection of international law and macroeconomics, the first step on his career path with the multilateral economic institutions.
He was unemployed...for one day.
With the IMF, he managed the legal and institutional aspects of a portfolio of 20 countries, but he didn’t feel he was having the impact he wanted. Recruited by the World Bank, he left the IMF to literally work across the street. “It was exactly what I thought I wanted to do. I went back to doing transactions, but I was working for better outcomes, mainly in Francophone Africa. For example, we helped make possible the construction of an enormous port in Senegal; this has drastically improved the country’s economic prospects. I could directly see the impact of my work.”
After receiving inquiries from the Obama Administration, he left the World Bank to accept a position as a macroeconomic policy advisor in the U.S. Treasury. He advised the Assistant Treasury Secretary for two years and then was asked to represent the United States on the board of directors of the Asian Development Bank in Manila.
Working past the end of the Administration, he left that position in 2018 and was unemployed for exactly one day. “I flew to Hong Kong, where my wife was living. When I woke up that next morning, Fletcher had emailed me to ask me to teach their iconic course on law and development because the former dean on health leave. This left me commuting between Hong Kong and Boston, which was intense.”
He was the bassist in a band during high school.
“As best I remember, we were the only band around during my years at Country Day. We played for Homecoming, but I was also a guard on the football team, so I remember stressing out about protecting my hands during the game so I could play bass for the dance. I was typically fairly overcommitted.” He participated in theater and sports each season, and he was vice president of student government. He also co-founded the Environmental Club in the late 1980s. “We sifted through the garbage each week to pull out the recyclables. Then we set up a contract for their collection.” In recent years, he says, it has been gratifying to see CCDS advance in three areas that have always been important to him: the environment, service, and an international orientation.
He encourages current students to get involved and have fun. “You need to try to find a balance.” To find this balance as an adult, he played in a nerdy funk band – Bonjour, Ganesh! – that ended up headlining at some big venues in D.C. – even playing shows now and then during work visits back from Manila. He then pulled together an ‘80s and punk cover band called "Walter" in Manila. Covid has made it hard to play in London the past two years, but, as they say in the UK, “Watch this space”!
He is a donor to the Dunn Fund for faculty enrichment.
“I would do anything in a heartbeat if it’s connected to the Dunns. Coach Dunn taught me biology and was also my football coach, and Pat Dunn taught me English. They were both stunningly good teachers and equally good people.” Strauss says he also gives back because Country Day is in his family. “My Uncle Tony [Carl A. Strauss, Jr. ‘57] exemplified Country Day’s high standards of instruction throughout his decades of teaching, and my niece attends Country Day now. CCDS taught me to write and think critically, which may be the most important skills undergirding everything in life.”