Emanuel Hofacker - Class of 1987
General Legal Counsel, Consumer Finance Bank, Zurich, Switzerland

The American Field Service program, now known as AFS, began in 1915 as a wartime humanitarian aid service and has been transformed over the years to become an international secondary school exchange, volunteer, and intercultural learning organization. Their mission is to help build a more peaceful world by promoting understanding among cultures. East Burke has been fortunate to have had many students from abroad who have come to study and exchange ideas with both young people and teachers who live in our area.

Emanual Hofacker spent his senior year experiencing the differences between life in his native Switzerland and the foothills of North Carolina. Today Emanuel is an attorney who serves as General Counsel of the largest Consumer Finance Bank in Switzerland where he oversees all matters related to legal, compliance, and communications. He also serves as the secretary of the board of directors and represents the bank in industry associations.

“I am on the Management Board of the Bank,” he explains, “and I can move things, I love to take over responsibility and lead teams. I am part of a good crew on the Management Board, and over the years I have built strong teams of professionals in the legal, communications, and compliance departments. I have pursued a – sort of – traditional legal career, with employments as a judge, an attorney, and – for the past 15 years – an in-house counsel. I have studied law because I like the analytical work in combination with the fact that – as a lawyer – many career paths are open for one to pursue. Or perhaps it is because I like to do different things, look into different areas, gain insight from different angles, and be curious about what’s out there in addition to what I already know. Actually, my first choice for a career would have been in mechanical engineering, but I found out that mathematics, physics, and numbers in general are perhaps not ideal for me.”

“I joined the Bank in 2005 because at the time it was part of General Electric Company, and I liked how the company was run. I enjoyed being part of a large company with a strong and international heritage. In the interim, the bank is listed at the stock exchange, which brings different challenges, especially in my role as General Counsel.”

“The General Counsel of a Bank has to be able to balance risks vs. rewards and find solutions between what makes the sales departments happy in the short run vs. what keeps the Bank safe in terms of regulatory requirements. It is not always easy to carry the responsibility both for meeting regulatory requirements as the General Counsel and providing for good financial results as a member of the Management Board.”

“Earlier on in my career, I worked as a substitute judge and later as a lawyer in a law firm. The legal profession remains very interesting, and I had the luck of being active as a legal expert and seeing the legal work from different angles of the profession.”

Emanuel graduated from Zurich University Law School where he wrote a Doctoral Dissertation on the restitution of artworks from Germany to Italy after World War II. While working as an employee of General Electric, he received further management training.

“Before I joined East Burke, I had been used to the traditional European school system. Teachers in Europe were distant; the focus was more on delivering the learning content during class regardless of how capable a teacher was to do it. I felt that teachers at East Burke were more on eye-level with the students, having a more interactive style. Certainly, my positive experience at East Burke was strongly influenced by the very good and very motivated faculty working there.”

“I very much enjoyed how Mr. Jerry Murray taught chemistry and physics, combining in a unique manner the dry subject matter with truly unique hands-on examples. Where else than in his classes would you find a multiple-choice exam question on the topic of ‘chemical bonding’ where you had to team up ‘James’ and ‘007’ for the correct answer? Or how could anyone come up with an example on how mechanical pressure on crystalline structures leads to a flow of electric current? Well, Mr. Murray surely had a story ready, talking of a WWII war veteran with a piece of metal in his skull a who picked up radio waves when he chewed on the fillings of his teeth. I had other great teachers, such as Mr. Jack Robinson for math, Mrs. Barbara Bliss for French, and Mrs. Lillian Pendley for English, who gave me a key ring ‘Class of ‘87’ which I still use to this very day.”

“For me, the experience as a foreign exchange student was pivotal in my life. There is a time before I came to the U.S. and the time after I returned to Europe. My year at East Burke was so special to me because I became part of a different world and made friendships that have continued until this very day. Susan and Jim Williams, with whom I had the privilege to stay during the year, have been more than just host parents; I learned so much from them about life in the American South, about tolerance, ambition, music, and faith, and they are my North Carolina family. There were many delightful experiences living with the Williamses, but sometimes there were challenges as well. One terrifying memory was of how Jim used to drive us to school while reading the newspaper that he has spread out on the steering wheel! Fortunately we both survived. “

“My friends from the senior class at East Burke (including the other exchange students like Claudia from Germany, Antonio from Italy, and Cecilia from Brazil) made me feel at home from the very first time I participated in soccer training in August of ’86. The contact continued with Eric Cranford and Scott Whitlock through the years, sadly interrupted by Eric’s premature death in 2001.”

Emanuel’s continuing lifelong friendships and the lessons that he learned at East Burke show how people from different cultures can come together to share meaningful experiences through common humanity, enriching both his life and the lives of those who know him.

Published February 2022

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