Retired executive playing active role in town
hose South African vehicle owners who have a preference for Continental tyres have a well-known retired Port Alfred man, Tony Versfeld, to thank for them being produced in the country.
And, indirectly, his wife Trish also played her part in this.
Though Versfeld spent most of his working career in Gauteng, his association with the Eastern Cape started in Grahamstown, where he was born. But he started his schooling in Port Alfred during the World War 2 years when he lived with his grandparents while his father served in the armed forces.
After the war, his father returned to his
Tposition at a bank and was immediately transferred to Dundee in KwaZulu-Natal. Versfeld attended the local high school for the remainder of his schooling and became one of the stars on the sports field.
He excelled on the athletics track and broke the school’s 100-yards record. He explained that this still stands as this distance was later converted to 100 metres and his time was never bettered. He was also selected to represent Northern Natal schools in this sport.
Verfeld was also a talented rugby player as a flyhalf and captained the first XV in 1953, his last year at school. At the same time he was head boy. He then went on to represent the Natal U19 side.
After matriculating, it was natural for Versfeld to follow his father with a career in banking. He worked under his father and found this tough as his father ensured he did not get any preferential treatment. He explained that his bank was the first one in the province to get a manually operated calculator, which Versfeld was not permitted to operate – he had do all his additions in his head.
The young Versfeld was soon transferred to Cape Town, where he continued with his rugby career by joining the famous Villages Club. He played in both their U19 and senior sides and also played a few matches for Western Province.
In 1958, Versfeld was transferred to Johannesburg where his life was to change quite dramatically. He met and courted the secretary to one of the senior men at the General Tyre Company.
She was to become his wife and he was subsequently offered the position of national credit manager in 1966 at the head office in Johannesburg.
“I had the bank to thank for this as I believe the training I got during those earlier years was as good as that of an accountant. It also made a huge difference to my salary as I went from R70 to R100,” Versfeld said.
An interesting fact was that his new company had no price increases on any of their products from 1962 to 1969. “There was no such thing as inflation in those days,” he added.
It was obvious that Versveld had a bright future at General Tyre as he was promoted to various positions until he became marketing director in 1978.
He then became the assistant to the managing director and was appointed to the board in 1981. A year later it came as no surprise when he was appointed managing director, a position he held for seven years.
It was during his leadership in 1983 that Versfeld was directly responsible for introducing the well-known Continental tyres into the country.
But then disaster struck when General Tyre had a change of ownership and the company was restructured with the head office in Johannesburg being closed. This resulted in Versfeld and other top management finding themselves without jobs. Versfeld had served General Tyre for 27 years.
This meant another major change in his life and he and his financial director, John LardnerBurke, now retired to Kenton, decided to form a partnership and work for themselves. They bought a small company that manufactured tarpaulins and tents.
This went well, but by 1995 they had had enough and sold the company and Versfeld retired.
The couple moved to Port Alfred. He immediately became involved in the town’s activities and soon took over as chairman of the Ratepayers’ Association He then became the finance director of Settlers Park in 2002 and moved into the village in 2008 where he continued to serve as finance director and on the board for 14 years.
A keen golfer, Versveld joined Royal Port Alfred Golf Club, served on this committee and ran the popular Mad Hatter competition for six years. He has had the distinction of three holes-in-one, two of them coming in two months in Port Alfred. He also plays bowls. The couple have three children and six grandchildren.