Tales from a Thousand Glass Beads


The SWARCO Pioneers of Road Marking

When SWARCO was founded in 1969, no one could have imagined how rapid the growth would be over the following fifty years. Manfred Swarovski and a small sworn-in team laid the foundation for today's success in the Middle East in the mid-1970s. This is the story of the men without whom SWARCO would probably not exist today.
Like some other SWARCO stories, this one begins at a bar. Manfred Swarovski meets an Arab businessman in London. And so the adventure can begin.


THE ADVENTURE BEGINS

The suitcases are packed. The young Fritz Pfister is sitting at the airport in Vienna waiting for his first big assignment for the young road marking company M. SWAROVSKI. The adventure "A thousand and one glass beads" has begun and will last ten years for Fritz. The task is to successfully establish road markings n the Middle East, sell them and apply them to the roads.

Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia – today a metropolis of eight million inhabitants – in 1976 breaks the one-million population threshold and is booming economically. Fritz Pfister and a small team laid the first test road studs in front of the police headquarters in Riyadh. However, it will take almost two years before the contract for the innovative and self-developed ceramic product with embedded glass beads – which retroreflect at night – is awarded.

A tough job for real men – marking roads in the Arabian desert.
SWARCO central office in Baghdad in the 70s and 80s.

Asphalt temperatures of up to 70 degrees Celsius, the high rubber abrasion of the tyres and sand everywhere are unexpectedly high obstacles for man, machine and product. "On top of these came cultural differences and the hellishly hot summers that I will never forget," says Fritz Pfister.

Fritz Pfister was alone on site until the first orders were placed. Already in those days, the name Swarovski stood for quality and was important for getting into business. Material, products and skilled workers later came from Austria and Germany.

"There was a particularly odd story in Oman – we also wanted to get started there," recalls Fritz Pfister. "We always paid special attention to our machines and products. One day, we were laying test markings in front of the police headquarters in Muscat and noticed that all our reflective traffic cones had disappeared. Nobody noticed anything, nobody knows anything. The strange thing was that a few days later we discovered all of our traffic cones at a police checkpoint."
Every dollar was really hard-earned money; on the one hand because of the working conditions, on the other hand you had to have a lot of stamina before you got the money from the state clients. SWARCO, with its founding company M. SWAROSKI, a young team and a Manfred Swarovski who wanted to explore the world, managed to establish itself as a competent partner in the Middle East within ten years.

Road marking material made in Austria.

Fritz Pfister has been SWARCO's man for all occasions since 1970 and will retire in 2019. He has lived happily with his wife in the Tyrol for decades and is the father of a daughter.

Fritz loves nature and his bicycle. He looks back on a successful working life as Managing Director at SWARCO and has always been a close companion of Manfred Swarovski.

Fritz Pfister in 2019.

A GREAT LOVE

What for Fritz Pfister ended with the separation from his partner, was for Hans Jesacher the beginning of a great love.  As the responsible project manager in the Baghdad office, Hans pulled out all the stops from 1978 to 1983 in order to drive business forward. ”I fell in love with this city, the country and the people,” says Hans, one of the best salespersons SWARCO has ever had.

Our client was the police. Baghdad was experiencing an enormous economic boom in the 1970s. Life pulsated in the streets - which today are destroyed by war and terror. Hans remembers the changes that began in the country before the war: ”Road markings were something new, zebra crossings were introduced and marked for the first time. Initially, the population did not understand what all this was meant to be good for. Enormous information campaigns with dedicated media reports on television and radio explained the function of road markings. At the introduction of every new pedestrian crossing there were two men in uniform with whistles. They explained the function of the pedestrian crossing nd made sure with loud whistling that the new rules were respectedˮ.

The Iraqis were a very open-minded people at that time. It was easy to be a part of society. The country flourished. The city was beautiful. Life pulsated in the streets. There were clubs, events and activities. Alcoholic drinks and a western lifestyle were everywhere. A time when Hans met his great love and wife, with whom he now has two wonderful children.

Branding the name M. SWAROVSKI at the Baghdad Office.

Hans was in charge of the order book. One of contracts was to stripe the road from Baghdad to Mosul – a stretch of over 400 km – which was walked in its entirety by the stripers at 45 degrees in the shadow in order to manually set a pre-marking dot at meter intervals in the middle of the road. Then a police-escorted road marking machine carried out the center- and edgeline markings.

When the first Gulf War began in 1980, Hans and his wife stayed in Baghdad for another three years. ˮThe war did not take place in the city, but it had an impact on daily life. At the beginning of the war, for example, you were only allowed to drive at night with the car headlights switched off, later you had to mask the headlights. My wife originates from Baghdad, and when the situation became more and more dangerous, we decided to move to Austria. Here our son was born, our first child,ˮ Hans remembers.

When the adventure began, Hans was only twenty-three years old. The orders for road marking at that time were the start of a fulfilling working life characterized by many business trips. And the cornerstone for SWARCO's success. What started back then with 1200 km of motorway marking on four lanes and over 5 million reflective road studs was the basis for SWARCO's worldwide success today.

Zebra crossing: a novelty in Baghdad in the 1970s.
A "safety car" for the safety of the striping crew during their hard work.

Hans Jesacher has been SWARCO's sales expert for road marking products worldwide since 1978.

He cannot yet really part from SWARCO. In his retire-ment he will have many in- teresting and adventurous stories to tell his grandchildren. His love is for his wife, his children, SWARCO, Iraq and his classic car. If anyone should write a book about sales,  it should be Hans.

Hans Jesacher.

ON THE ROAD

What sounds wild and romantic, represented for Josef Platter one of the greatest challenges of his working life. Driving from Austria to Saudi Arabia in just 14 days with a small truck and a caravan mounted on the loading area. The job on site: To apply road markings for two months at temperatures around 45  degrees Celsius.The goal was clear: an adventure without road maps – without a mobile phone – without a navigation system – without legal rest periods.


JOSEF'S TRAVEL DIARY:

  • My route: from Austria / Spielfeld via Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Jordan to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia
  • I drive at night, during the day I mostly stand at border crossings
  • When I drive into the night, it's with the window open so I don't fall asleep.
  • I can follow another truck ahead of me, the driver has the same destination – and knows the way.
  • Driving in a convoy makes me tired, I often have to cross an intersection at a red traffic light to keep the connection.
  • In Turkey, fifty percent of the oncoming trucks lack the windscreen. Young people beg on the roadside for cigarettes to be thrown by passing truck drivers, the toll for a good ride with windshield. I am lucky, my windshield remains intact.
  • My caravan is stuffed with tinned food for the journey, in Saudi Arabia I only eat biscuits for breakfast and "chicken" for lunch.
  • On average, I spend over 30 hours at most borders before the trip can continue.
  • At the last border to Saudi Arabia the customs papers do not fit, 1500 km from my final destination.
  • After an  additional 3000 km detour, I arrive at my destination.
  • The work can begin.

Heat, lack of hygiene, dust and sand, roadside food - the everyday life of a road marking man in Saudi Arabia. Josef Platter experienced all this.

"One of the biggest challenges was to always have the working material available at the right time. There were also a lot of times when we simply couldn't do anything because we didn't have any paint. At that time, everything in this country was simply a huge challenge, for what was a matter of course in Austria or Germany," reports Josef.

The possibilities for leisure activities were very limited. Nevertheless, Josef, who hadn't been able to swim before this foreign assignment, learned to swim in the Red Sea. He changed his diet to chicken and Coca Cola due to the lack of alternatives. "Back in Austria, I couldn't see any "chicken" for half a year," Josef says with a smile on his face.
"As far as technology is concerned, we were pioneers," Josef says.

A marking machine with a 3m cantilever arm was already on site. The outrigger was used to bring the markings onto the road. Before that, the machine needed multiple adjustments until everything fitted. At work we met stripers from France, the Tschai we drank together on the side of the road had an immediate effect on the digestive system. "In any case, it's memories that always accompany you, even though it was all very exhausting," summarizes Josef.

And every night, when the stars rise in the oriental night sky, millions of SWARCO glass beads sparkle in the headlights of the cars, providing greater safety and orientation on the country's roads.

Josef Platter has worked for SWARCO since 1971. He is the man who knows everything about road markings and their application.

As a pioneer, as a hands-on guy, as a man for all occasions, and today as the base manager of SWARCO Heoscont in Wattens, he and the many helping hands of his team have played a great part in SWARCO's 50-year success story.

Josef Platter.