SWARCO's ITS Adventure - How it Started

A lot happened in the traffic/ITS industry between 2000 and 2002. It was several acquisitions, technology changes and structural changes in the market. SWARCO's owner, Manfred Swarovski, realized early that to succeed in this market, it would be crucial to add and build new competence in system integration as well as project execution and new services.

SWARCO’s proud history until 2002 was based on the supply of products and services to the road marking sector. The only company in SWARCO with relation to the Traffic Management sector was at that time SWARCO FUTURIT, providing traffic signals and variable message signs to the international markets. The dream of extending the business was strong, but how could he get this up and running? In Oslo in 2002, something started that changed SWARCO’s portfolio, history and identity.

“When Manfred approached us back then and asked whether we would be interested in building up a new SWARCO business unit in the Traffic Management sector, we saw this as an extremely interesting challenge. "It was a great opportunity to shape and build something new – and bring the best and most skilled people in the Nordic Traffic Management Industry together in the SWARCO team,” remembers Hans Petter Ødegaard, Regional Manager for SWARCO in Northern Europe. 

The vision of Manfred Swarovski was clear: Become the leading provider of Traffic Management solutions in the Nordics with strong competence in system integration, project execution and new services. It was also clearly stated that this setup, if successful, would be a role model for further rollout in other European regions.

Based on this vision, a comprehensive and ambitious 5-year business plan for a complete new SWARCO setup was established by key people such as Petter Lyngby, Hans Petter Ødegaard and Joakim Rosén. The plan was not only very ambitious, but by some people also characterized as unrealistic. However, the business plan got full support from Manfred Swarovski and on that basis, it was decided to provide the financial framework to support the ambitious growth plan. From that point on everything happened very fast.

The Building of the Companies in the Nordics

The first company to be acquired was Elektro Sandberg in Oslo in late 2002 to get a foothold in the service and maintenance business. The company was later renamed into SWARCO NORGE AS. In 2003, SWARCO got the first major contract for service and maintenance for the entire installed base of traffic controllers in Oslo Municipality – a major breakthrough in the Urban market. The most qualified people in the industry from the Nordic countries had great faith in the new company. Several of them left their already safe jobs and joined the new company.

During 2003, offices were established in Oslo, Stockholm, Karlstad, Copenhagen and Helsinki. The speed and momentum of the new startup gained good traction in the market and was also welcome by the key customers. At the same time, a complete solution portfolio was brought in from key partners – both in Urban, Interurban and Parking. "It was insanely exciting and extremely busy. We were small but did well because we cooperated closely across national borders”, says Michael Kisum, today IT & System Technician with SWARCO DANMARK. Already by summer 2004, SWARCO Nordics was the leading Traffic Management company in the region, also in terms of turnover.

The rapid organic growth was completed with the acquisition of Peek Traffic in August 2004, which brought in a huge installed base of systems and additional staff. Later in 2004, the small Danish company Falco Traffic under the lead of Morten Søndergaard was acquired as well. The company was renamed into SWARCO TECHNOLOGY, today a leading international provider of traffic controllers and one of the most successful companies in the SWARCO Group. By year-end 2004, the headcount reached 160 in six different Nordic locations.

A Tough Start

Even with a lot of things in place, the start-up years were quite tough for the new companies in the Nordics. Steep growth, acquisitions and new projects kept a constant pressure on the cash flow – with some sleepless nights for the management team. Although Manfred Swarovski provided the financial framework, the company still had to perform and justify a future existence. It became very important to make good strategic decisions regarding products, services and projects – and at the same time keep the costs and overhead as low as possible. Every customer and project were critically important and demanding maximum attention.

We Can Make it - Together

But even if it was a tough time, this was also an exciting and fun time. The whole of SWARCO in the Nordic region consisted of highly committed and entrepreneurial people who really wanted to make the company a success. Everyone had a unique ownership and was fearless. During the evenings and weekends, several hours were spent to push the company forward, and people were working as salesmen, project managers and system specialists all at one time. Everyone contributed where needed and everyone helped each other. The cross-border cooperation was also strong. Everyone helped each other by sharing experiences, knowledge and resources. Many of the people who started at that time in SWARCO are still with SWARCO today. Wojciech Goj, ITS Division Marketing Manager from Sweden, summarizes the feeling in those days like this: "We were a young and hungry company with committed people who were afraid of becoming fat cats and saw no limitations."

Important Projects and Sustainable Growth

In Sweden, SWARCO took on the big Southern Link project in Stockholm in 2004, the first large Highway project within the Group. Later in 2004 / 2005, SWARCO won major airport contracts with AVINOR and SWEDAVIA and also became the leading provider of Parking solutions in the Nordics. With strong references and a proven track record in all market sectors already two years after start-up, SWARCO Nordic was well positioned for continuous growth and expansion for the years to come. The projects and contracts awarded in the following years were significant, including the largest single contract ever for SWARCO – the Northern Link tunnel project in Stockholm. And yes - the ambitious 5-year business plan was met and even exceeded! Thanks to a dedicated and ambitious team, but of course also due to a clear vision and strong support by Manfred Swarovski.

Shaping the Future

His vision had become reality. With sustaining success from the Nordic start-up back in 2003, the foundations and experience were in place for further acquisitions and growth in the ITS market. The further ITS adventure of SWARCO is well known, and today the SWARCO Group is recognized as one of the leading providers of solutions and services on the international market of Intelligent Transport Systems.

Pioneers of hdyrogen-based electro mobility:

Manfred Swarovski (always ready for some fun) and Hyunday Austria Import Director Roland Punzengruber in 2015

They look a bit pale after a deep-sea fishing tour off the shores of Acapulco in 1977: Jon Sproul, Hans Jesacher, a blue marlin, Werner Kill, Jim Sproul and Alexander Swarovski.

Always working very closely with the product: The laboratory and field testing staff Heidi Ehlert, Frank Siegmund and Patrick Wesche from SWARCO Limburger Lackfabrik evaluate the latest rumble strips for traffic calming purposes.

Since the 1980s, SWARCO has been the Tyrolean partner of the Austria Glass Recycling system, collecting used glass packagings as ra material for the production of new bottles and jars and thus protecting the environment.

SWARCO has developed into the largest exhibitor at the world's largest traffic technology exhibition, INTERTRAFFIC in Amsterdam.

In good mood: Long-term compagnions Fritz Pfister, Manfred Swarovski and Gebi Götsch at the SWARCO Amstetten-Ferschnitz Golfclub in 2016.

Austria's Federal President Heinz Fischer and Burgenland governor Hans Niessl (3rd from left) paying a visit to SWARCO's factory in Neutal in 2011.

Managing Director, Executive Board Member, Chairman of the Supervisory Board, consultant and personal friend of Manfred Swarovski: Dr. Josef Prettenhofer cultivated the SWARCO landscape over more than three decades.