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Decades before he stood on the stage of recent Democratic presidential debate in Iowa, Tom Steyer ’79 was giving his all on the field for the Yale men’s soccer team. The businessman and politician served as captain of the squad and was known for his hard work and commitment to constant improvement.

Steyer hails from Manhattan, New York and was driven in both athletics and academics from a young age. He attended the Buckley School in New York City for his early and middle school education, before heading to Phillips Exeter Academy for his high school years. Steyer played soccer for Exeter but was not recruited to play at Yale. Instead, the New York native walked on to the team once he arrived in New Haven — a move that turned out to be a great success for both Steyer himself and the Yale soccer program.

“Tom was a great leader with high energy,” former Yale soccer player Harry Gruner ’81 said. “He was a star person and a good soccer player. Tom was hardworking, charismatic and everyone knew he was going to be wildly successful. If you told everyone on the team that Tom might run for the President of the United States, no one would look and say ‘that’s bizarre.’”

When asked about Steyer’s play style, many teammates and coaches called him “competitive.” The hard-nosed defender led from the back and always pushed himself and his teammates to get better, they said. Steyer earned two varsity letters for the 1977 and 1978 seasons and was elected captain for the 1978 campaign.

In the 1977 season, the Bulldogs were up against a strong Ivy League and battled top-tier teams each time out. But with the team’s grit and determination, the Bulldogs scraped out a respectable 8–7–0 record, including a dramatic 3–2 overtime win against conference foe, Penn.

“He was chosen as captain by his teammates, his classmates, and it was a good choice,” former Yale head soccer coach Steve Griggs said. “He had already shown the leadership style that you would hope for in a sports captain. It doesn’t seem to me that those qualities are that different from what you’re looking for in someone who can pull a group, or country, together.”

For his role in the 1977 team’s impressive above 0.500 finish, Steyer was elected captain for the 1978 squad. Despite the team’s struggles, there were many positive moments from that season. The Bulldogs thrashed cross-town rivals Quinnipiac 5–0 and lost a tight 1–0 game to Harvard — a team that had blown out the Elis 6–1 just one season prior. Steyer’s journey from walk-on to captain was remarkable and set an example for players to come.

Following Yale, Steyer left behind athletics and took on a position as an analyst for Morgan Stanley. But just two years later, he returned to school and earned an MBA from Stanford University.

His life changed in 1986 when he moved to San Francisco, where he established the hedge fund that eventually grew into Farallon Capital Management. When Steyer sold his share in 2012, Farallon was ranked the fourth largest hedge fund in the world.

Steyer’s leadership soon led to his involvement in politics in the state of California. He became deeply invested in the climate change debate, beginning with his battle against Proposition 23 — a proposal that advocated for a delay in the application of environmental policy. Three years later, Steyer created the NextGen Climate Action Committee, a Political Action Committee that provided funding for candidates who prioritized environmental issues. Last July, Steyer announced his bid for the 2020 presidential race and has been on the campaign trail ever since.

“It was great playing with Tom,” former Yale men’s soccer player David Egan ’78 said. “He was tough, he was competitive and he improved a lot. Tom was very willing to listen and be coachable. Being athletic and willing to be coached, he improved dramatically his junior and senior years.”

Steyer graduated from Yale College in 1979.

 

Eamonn Smith | eamonn.smith@yale.edu