What first strikes a visitor about Hochberg’s office are the dozens of vibrant work-motivational posters from the 1920s and ’30s that plaster his walls, broadcasting slogans such as, “When you make a mistake, ADMIT it! Learn from it! Don’t make excuses, make good.” Closer to Hochberg’s desk stands a pillar covered from floor to ceiling with framed New Yorker cartoons.
Hochberg, 61, brings this blend of hard work and humor to his job as chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, which provides loan guarantees to foreign companies that do business with U.S. exporters. The Ex-Im Bank is “about jobs,” supporting 225,000 export-related American jobs in fiscal 2012 alone, he says. The bank’s overall financing that year exceeded $35.7 billion and backed $50 billion in exports. Hochberg, who has been in his post since 2009, hopes to create even more employment by moving more U.S. products and services into such countries as Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, Turkey, and Vietnam. “We’ve got a lot more work to do,” he says. “There are still too many people not working.”
The Ex-Im Bank has come under heavy attack, however. Republican critics claim it’s a slush fund for a few big companies, and Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., has proposed a bill that would shut down the agency’s financing activities after a year, then turn them over to the Treasury Department before closing Ex-Im for good. But Hochberg points out that the agency is self-sustaining and has generated nearly $1.6 billion for the Treasury over the past five years “at no cost to the taxpayer.” During his tenure, financing to small businesses rose from $3.3 billion in fiscal 2008 to $6.1 billion in fiscal 2012. “More than 85 percent of the bank’s authorizations are for small businesses,” he says, “and eliminating the bank would hurt U.S. exporters and cost American jobs.”
Hochberg grew up in Mt. Vernon, N.Y. After earning his bachelor’s degree from New York University and an M.B.A. from Columbia University, he went to work at the mail-order company his mother had started, Lillian Vernon. As president and chief operating officer, he helped transform his family’s business into an international, publicly traded, direct-marketing corporation.
Hochberg is one of the most-senior openly gay members of the Obama administration; his partner is writer Tom Healy.