The Power of Quiet Influence
Introverts have the power to inspire and influence leaders and organizations alike. Amber Franssen is one of those people at the San Francisco Fed. She’s flexible yet organized, quietly strong and confident. Her role as executive assistant to First Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Mark Gould fits her to a tee.
Moving around and going with the flow
Growing up, Amber and her sister frequently moved, living with various relatives and living in several locations. She took the experiences in stride.
“I lived with my parents off and on and mostly with my grandparents from middle school through high school,” Amber shares.
She loved getting to know them and feels lucky to have had a close relationship with each.
“My grandma on my mom’s side was a teacher at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota before having children. My grandfather graduated from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City as an electrical engineer. He worked for General Electric and Honeywell’s computer divisions. His experience-training people led to a career in sales. He worked with the original ‘room-sized’ computers. My grandmother on my dad’s side was a real estate agent and she also owned multiple restaurants,” she says.
When they lived with their paternal grandmother, Amber and her sister would tag along, learning about business and the value of hard work.
“At a young age, even in elementary school, I helped at her restaurants. I used to help seat people as the hostess,” she says.
Fitting in anywhere
A dynamic home life meant geographical and experiential changes. Amber went to nine different schools from elementary school through high school. For example, moving from a large East Bay high school in the San Francisco Bay Area to a tiny, rural high school in Northern California’s Calaveras County. But she adjusted quickly.
“I really enjoyed living in Calaveras County. The pace of life is slower, people are down to earth, and I have some really good friends I met there,” she says. “A lot of people comment that the changes must have been hard, but it didn’t faze me much. I just kept moving on.”
Whether in a rural or urban environment, Amber’s guiding North Star was to obtain a higher education.
“My main goal was making sure I did well and went to college. My parents did not finish college, but my grandparents showed me the importance of an education.”
An ironic switch of majors
Amber went to the University of California at Santa Barbara, arriving with wisdom beyond her years.
“I remember my roommate laughing because I was balancing my bank account. I was paying my bills, making sure I could get by each quarter. My friends didn’t have to do that,” Amber recalls. “It was a different experience, but it teaches you responsibility early on.”
She briefly studied business economics before deciding that economics was not for her. It’s an ironic twist, considering she would someday work at the San Francisco Fed among top economists, including President and CEO Mary Daly.
Amber switched majors to communication, which suited her better. She also worked as a purchasing assistant in a research office on campus to offset costs. As much as her classes were educating her, it was working and putting herself through school that really prepared Amber for the future.
“It gave me a good insight into what working in an office is like. I processed invoices and conducted the annual inventory for all their research devices,” she recalls.
Calmly workin’ it
Following an early career in marketing and advertising sales, Amber switched gears. At the San Francisco Fed, she landed a position complementing her strengths in organization and communication, and playing to her interest in economics.
After nine years on the job, she’s met former SF Fed presidents Janet Yellen (later Chair of the Federal Reserve) and John Williams (now President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York). She’s rubbed shoulders with highly regarded and nationally recognized leaders. Embedded in the deep-thought environment of the San Francisco Fed’s executive floor, she takes it all in stride.
What are Fed leaders really like? “Easy to approach,” Amber sums up. “It’s fun working with these amazing people who are really well known in economics, cash, and the banking industries. I feel privileged to know them on a personal and work basis.”
The answer surprises many people outside of the Fed who often think of the organization as austere and intimidating. The reality of an open office where employees can come chat seems strange.
“I know some people hesitate to come up to the floor, but I talk with our executives every day. I really do feel you can ask any question, and they’re happy to explain in a way that is easy for all people to understand,” Amber says.
As an executive assistant, Amber relies on her communications background and ability to influence at all levels of the organization. Her daily duties include heavy calendar management, tracking action items, and coordinating travel arrangements for First Vice President Gould. Day-to-day, she also collaborates with various departments and business areas throughout the organization to get things done. She’s known as the go-to expert for systems used to coordinate physical and logistical access to documents, event management tools, and those used to coordinate with security and police services.
Managing numerous business-critical updates and reviews would make others’ heads spin. Impressed by Amber’s ability to navigate the systems with ease, her peers nominated her for the San Francisco Fed’s e3 Award in 2019, recognizing employees who engage others, enable growth, and excel in their work.
Amber received the honor for her department in the fall of 2019.
Her colleague tagged her for the award because of the generous and skillful way she shares her expertise on the many processes in place in the offices of the SF Fed’s top leadership. Mr. Gould enthusiastically agreed in a video made for the award ceremony: “A lot of times you exhibit this quiet influence behind the scenes. Always with a smile. Helping people to get their work done. Exhibiting influence and collaboration and this spirit of helping people understand these systems.”
Mr. Gould noted that with Amber on the job, “everything happens seamlessly, efficiently, and effectively.”
Asked how she felt about the honor, Amber gives a small shrug and smile, responding, “I’m not big on attention, but I appreciate the nice recognition.”