On 6 March 2021, the glass industry sadly lost a popular and respected character. Stephen Byers passed away peacefully from pneumonia aged 79, with wife and business partner Karen Byers by his side.
Stephen, with Karen, will forever be known as the pioneers of the ‘non-stick’, easy clean glass industry. The inseparable couple had to fight hard and challenge the industry and transform perceptions and attitudes towards the protection and maintenance of glass surfaces. Stephen was a visionary with their high quality ClearShield® glass surface technology that over the years many have attempted to imitate, or even pass off.
Born in Texas in 1941, Stephen graduated from Missouri University with an MBA and degree in Chemistry. He then worked for multinational chemical companies and in 1977 moved to the UK for a two year assignment. In that time, Stephen met Karen and decided to remain in England. They married in 1981 in Denmark, Karen’s home country.
In that same year, Stephen investigated the concept of ‘non-stick’, easy-clean glass and subsequently acquired rights to new potential technology for the protection of various surfaces. Extensive research and improvements followed, and the new technology was branded ‘ClearShield’.
ClearShield® was initially tested extensively on glass in the marine environment to prove it was easier to clean and keep clean. Stephen remarked, “If ClearShield works on glass in the harsh marine environment, it’s going to work in any environment!”. After successful small scale marine trials, ClearShield® was ready to be launched commercially.
However, selling the concept to the glass industry would be a mammoth task; they displayed staunch determination and unwavering dedication to raising awareness on the corrosion of glass, and most importantly how it may be avoided or corrected. And their efforts paid off.
Consequently, Stephen and Karen single-handedly created a new and global industry for the protection of glass surfaces, now firmly accepted by the whole of the glass and construction industry. ClearShield® led the couple to develop a unique, fully-integrated system to renovate, protect and maintain glass: the ClearShield System® (later rebranded the ClearShield Eco-System®).
In 1985, they treated their first cruise ship, the QE2. This was a prestigious project indeed, and would pave the way for treatment to other cruises liners: to date, ClearShield® has been applied to over 60 cruise liners.
In 1986, Stephen and Karen helped a certain Richard Branson break the world record for the fastest transatlantic surface crossing. Richard’s powerboat, Virgin Atlantic Challenger II, had her exterior glass treated with ClearShield®, making it resistant to the harsh sea spray and optimise visibility. This saved the crew precious time from having to stop and clean the glass.
With awareness of ClearShield® increasing, Stephen and Karen formed Ritec International Limited in 1987. That same year, ClearShield® won the Prince of Wales Industry Award for Industrial Innovation & Production. Those of you of a certain age may recall HRH Prince Charles throw a bucket of mud against a large piece of glass half-treated with ClearShield® on the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World programme, the mud effortlessly running off the protected side. Even at trade shows, visitors will spy Ritec’s ‘mud dome’ demonstration units and say they remember seeing the technology demonstrated on said programme; certainly ClearShield® has made a lasting impression to some!
Ritec were – and continue to be – members of the GGF (Glass & Glazing Federation). Over the last 30 years, Stephen worked relentlessly with the GGF to begin development of some industry standards, and to make health & safety and ethics driving factors in the growth of this new industry. He held various positions, including Chairman of the London Region from 2006-10 as well as being a founder Chairman of the GGF Modified Glass Group in 2013. For 10 years, Stephen also served on the GGF Marketing and Communications Committee and was on the GGF Glazing Executive for 7 years.
Stephen and Karen’s achievements were recognised in 2019 by the GGF when they received an award for Outstanding Contribution to the Industry, a fantastic honour.
From humble beginnings, Stephen and Karen’s technology is today used in more than 70 countries on commercial and residential buildings as well as on ships and other transport vehicles, and in many other applications. ClearShield® has also won several international awards on the way. However, what is less known is that they introduced crucial innovations such as a ground-breaking system for the protection of glass and ceramic electrical insulators with their VoltShield System™, as used by the National Grid.
But it is not just his business achievements Stephen will be remembered for. His determination, positivity, kindness and graciousness will never be forgotten. Stephen Byers, you will be sorely missed.