In the twelfth edition of Conversations with Old Boys, we chat to Craig Duff, an Old Boy with a considerable entrepreneurial record. Craig, who matriculated in 1987, founded Varsity College three years after leaving school and helped to build it into a leading private tertiary institution. Varsity College was later bought by Advtech, where Craig went onto hold several senior executive positions. Today Craig consults to businesses, and has a passion for working with young entrepreneurs. He is also a Founding Director of the newly formed Westville Boys’ High School Foundation.
Conversations: Was there an important life lesson that you learnt at Westville Boys’ High School?
Before I was made a prefect, Roy Couzens, the Headmaster at the time, called me into his office and told me that he was faced with a quandary regarding whether to appoint me as a prefect or not. He said that half of the teachers had advised him that appointing me as a prefect would be a bad decision, while the other half advised him that not appointing me would be a bad decision.
Mr Couzens told me that after considering the matter he had decided to appoint me as a prefect. He looked me in the eyes, shook my hand, and said: “Duff, don’t let me down. I am putting my faith in you.”
I remembered his words throughout my matric year and well into my working years. I was very saddened to learn of his sudden passing and I hope I deserved the faith that he put in me.
Conversations: Who was your favourite teacher at WBHS?
Definitely Geoff Bull, one of my maths teachers.
Conversations: Do you have a memorable moment on the sports field while at school that you would like to share with us?
My most memorable moments occurred during the year that I played Under 15 rugby. The side was very talented and boasted players that went onto represent SA Schools, including Alistair Hawley and Errol Stewart, as well at Mike Falkson, who later represented Natal Schools.
In that year the team scored over 700 points and only conceded about 10 points in approximately 13 games.
Conversations: What are your impressions of WBHS today?
I am very proud to have spent my high school years at Westville Boys’ High School. I truly believe that we received a balanced and all-round education. Back in 1987 Westville was regarded as a good school, but certainly played second fiddle to a few of the so-called older schools that could boast a greater tradition. We had a highly committed group of teachers and an equally committed and passionate management team at the School. We were truly blessed to have had such a great team to educate and guide us.
As I look at Westville today, it is with even greater pride that I reflect upon what the School has achieved. Westville is continually regarded as one of South Africa’s top schools from an academic, sporting, arts and leadership perspective. So much so that it has been admitted into the World Leading Schools Association.
“If you are a young man who is prepared to get involved in school life you will be richly rewarded by attending Westville.”
Conversations: What advice would you give to a primary school boy considering his high school options on why should attend WBHS?
Westville focuses on four distinct pillars, including leadership, academics, sport and the arts. There are opportunities to excel in one or more of these facets of the School. There is something for every boy at the School, and every boy will achieve a thorough grounding in all of these pillars.
The management, teaching staff and learners are all extremely passionate about the School. If you are a young man who is prepared to get involved in school life you will be richly rewarded by attending Westville.
Conversations: What has been the highlight of your business career thus far?
I have been blessed with a few highlights in my career thus far. Firstly, I would mention helping to develop Varsity College from a first year intake of 17 students and 1 lecture room into a national education brand that has assisted many young South Africans with their education and carrier development.
Secondly, I was assisted by some really great business people and mentors as a young businessman. Having been fortunate to retire quite early in my working life, I now have the time to put something back in and I spend most my time assisting and mentoring young hardworking entrepreneurs
Conversations: What advice would you give to a young person who wants to become a successful entrepreneur?
Dream big and think big. Work every day like you have to earn money to put food on your table tonight. Ensure that you tackle all your endeavours with vigour and passion.
Conversations: Why in your opinion is it significant that the Westville Boys’ High School Foundation has been established?
If Westville is going to continue to make such a significant difference in the lives of so many young men and for it to continue to maintain its position as one of the top schools in South Africa, we as a community of Old Boys are going to be required to assist.
Capital projects that are needed to ensure that the School remains at the cutting edge and relevant to an ever changing world will need to be privately funded.
The Foundation is a vehicle that allows Old Boys, Parents and members of the broader community to invest in the school and its learners so that we can create a better education and development platform for the future.
Conversations with Old Boys is a project of the Westville Boys’ High School Foundation, in partnership with the Westville Boys’ High School Old Boys’ Association