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ESF The First 50 Years - People stories

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ESF alumni: Steynberg brothers - Pierre and Andre

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 November, 2017, 9:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 November, 2017, 9:00am

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The career paths of students are often influenced by the experiences they encounter, and the advice they receive, at school. But few can remember the exact moment when something or somebody had a big effect on them.  

André Steynberg has a better memory than most, as he remembers when Mr Taylor, his physics teacher at Island School, told the class that the world’s crude oil supplies would run out during his lifetime. André took note of his teacher, and went on to spend 34 years with the integrated energy and chemical company Sasol, working in different technology development and management roles in South Africa. Today André works as a consultant in the USA.

“Although Mr Taylor was wrong, this influenced my career choice and my efforts to develop new sources of energy for our vehicles,” says André. “I have enjoyed my career. I was fortunate to be involved in work that was interesting, so my work was more like a hobby rather than simply a way to make a living.”

André says he found some of his teachers quite intimidating at the time, but looking back, he recognises that they were excellent. He says he received a high-quality education which prepared him well for future challenges. In his first year at university, he achieved distinctions in all three of his A-level subjects—mathematics, physics and chemistry — thanks to the solid education he received at Island School.

André was also deeply influenced by a school geography trip to Nepal, and swimming trips to Bangkok. These experiences made him curious to visit other places. “We were taught to think independently, to be self-reliant, and to balance work with other activities,” he says.

André has been awarded the South African Institute of Chemical Engineers Gold Medal twice. He has been granted 24 US patents, and has 5 recent patent applications pending. For recreation, he continued to swim. When participating in the 2016 South African Masters Swimming long course championship, in the men’s 60 to 64 category, André won five gold medals (which in world rankings translates to two 1st places, two 2nd places, and one 3rd place), and he broke the world record for 50 m backstroke. He followed this with a gold medal in the 50 m backstroke at the 2017 FINA World Masters Swimming Championships in Budapest, Hungary setting a new championship record. He also won two gold medals in relays at this event which were both new championship records for the Cape Town team.

André’s brother Pierre, two years his junior, represented Hong Kong in both swimming and athletics. He also attended Island School, in the class of 1976. Pierre is the owner of Multi-sport which operates in Hong Kong and Shanghai. He remembers how, on his first day as an Island School student, he was “greeted by the beaming smile of the first headmaster, Reverend Geoffrey Speak,” who displayed true joy at seeing his new pupils. Pierre says this warm reception had a profound effect on all the students.

Back in those days, the school was located in a converted British military hospital. The students spent time indulging in simple pleasures, such as playing bridge in free periods, or practising basketball during breaks, activities which the Steynberg boys enjoyed. They also used to have fun exploring the basement under the old military hospital building.

“We were all pioneers — the teachers, parents, and students — in shaping something unique and special,” Pierre says, adding that the kindly approach of the headmaster, and the smaller size of the school, formed the foundation of what is still called the Island School spirit.