These are just a few words I could use to describe our relationship and how I feel about Tony Marchesini, founder of H2O International South Africa. But the forever optimistic and positive Tony was also a good husband, a great father, a great son and a great family man but most of all a great person to be around. We lost Tony Sunday August 8th, 2021.
Our journey started in 1994, the same year Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as President of South Africa in May. It was the year South Africa opened to the world and to the countries that were against apartheid; one of them the USA. Tony saw this as an opportunity to bring US made products to South Africa and made the journey to Deerfield Beach Florida to meet with me just before the 4th of July weekend. I remember it as if it was yesterday. 4th of July that year fell on a Monday and we were getting ready to go away for the long weekend on Friday July 1st and scheduled to be back in the office the 7th. Naturally I tried to get him to postpone his visit until after we were back in the office and he said: “Mr. Guzman, (He was very formal back then) you don’t understand, if I don’t come now I may never be able to come to you. My wife Rosa is very pregnant and is due to give birth in the next couple of weeks.”
Seeing how eager he was, considering the special circumstances and how hungry for business we were (We were only a 15 month old business); I canceled my trip and invited him to come to the US. If memory serves me right he arrived on Thursday June 30th and checked in at the old Hilton in Boca Raton (Now Renaissance on 19th St.) where we had reserved for him.
The morning of the 1st I picked him up in a modified version of typical summer Florida attire (I put slacks on) and there he is in a three piece suit and tie. It was hot July and the poor guy was going to sweat his butt off so I suggested he change into more comfortable clothes. He just took off the vest, tie and jacket and on we went. It was “love at first sight”…we chatted and it felt like I had know him for years. The next few hours I spent showing him around the warehouse and showing him the products we were manufacturing and him telling me his story and experience with water filters. We must have made a good impression on each other as by lunch time he was convinced we needed to enter into an exclusive agreement and I could not agree more. It was a perfect match.
Being that South Africa was 6 hours ahead, by lunch time here it was already Friday evening in South Africa and his attorney was no longer available so an appointment was made for Saturday early morning. On Saturday we faxed documents (No email then) back and forth and by lunch time we had an agreement in place. H2O had given Tony Exclusivity on the products and the brand. And so H2O International SA was born and our relationship began. It must have been one hell of a bill from Franz, his attorney. The rest of his stay we celebrated the holiday, watched the World Cup and partied on the boat around Fort Lauderdale. It was like the vacation I was going to take but at home. It seems like only a little while ago.
He went back and set up his first store and being the savvy marketer he was in early 1995 he contacted me and proposed that together we sponsor a sail boat to enter the Rothmans Race from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro. The boat we were sponsoring was an old Dutch manufactured mono haul and a young crew from the University of Cape Town. It was the Oldest Boat in the race with the youngest crew (which meant Little experience). My first trip to South Africa was the same year, the year we launched the boat for the 1996 race and ever since then, I just fell in love with the country and its people. That year I got to meet Tony, the husband, the father, the son, the brother…the family man. His family adopted me as Zio Guillermo (Uncle Guillermo) and always made me feel at home whenever I visited. South Africa sort of became my second home ever since. Back to the race….We were sure to lose as we were sailing against high tech boats, we were just hoping for a good run and no embarrassment. With our handicap we did well and received some coverage in the local news papers. Not bad! But the real coverage came a few weeks later when on the return trip and due to rough seas, the heavily battered boat sank to the bottom of the ocean 90 miles from its destination in Cape Town. The crew and some equipment were rescued by a boat sailing close by. Needless to say the crew received a heroes welcome and the H2O brand was put on the map with articles titled: TOO MUCH H2O! Amongst others. H2O became then the brand of choice in South Africa.
In 1996 I started visiting South Africa twice a year with my last trip in 2019 before the pandemic started. All these years there have been many dinners, many laughs, some tears, many trips, visits to the US and just great memories. During all these years there were also many challenges but the forever optimist Tony never gave up and kept going and growing the business from one store he personally ran with Rosa’s help to 50+ stores throughout South Africa. There are hundreds of stories to tell and the memories are priceless. During all these years we always had our Franchisee meeting in May, and then in November I would visit again to plan for the following year. Every trip I met new people, wonderful people, and those who have stayed with the business will tell you Tony was one of a kind. Always people first.
In 2012 and following in the footsteps of H2O International USA and other WQA members, Tony started Wishing Well International Foundation South Africa and so his journey in philanthropy started. Together we organized deployment of filters to developing areas in South Africa and made a difference in the lives of thousands of people. These are times I will never forget as they changed the way I looked at South Africa and the rest of the world.
Fast forward to 2018 and Tony started conversations with CWC (Now BWT Africa) and after many years of hard work he announces he is selling the business. He stayed with H2O|BWT for two years and finally in March of 2021 he announced his retirement. He was surfing, hiking, enjoying his friends and family and reaping the benefits of a retirement well earned.
Through the pandemic we stayed in touch. We were planning trips and laughing via zoom or through WhatsApp (That is all we could do with the pandemic ravaging South Africa, the US and the rest of the world). Almost every week we would exchange a few messages, exchanged pictures, spoke about business, etc. It was never supposed to end like this. There were still many more dinners left, many more laughs to be had, trips, weddings, graduations, grandchildren, expeditions and so much more. I am still numb and in disbelief. I keep hoping it’s a nightmare, like the pandemic, I’ll wake up from soon. Please let it be! I can’t begin to imagine what Rosa, Renato, Gio and Fulvia must be feeling. His mother and brothers and sisters. Their Tony is gone, my friend is gone. He left us way too soon.
My trips to South Africa will never be the same again without you my friend. Thank you for all the memories and the great times. Thank you for crossing paths with me. You were the kind gentle soul I wish for everyone to have in their lives. I Love you and I look forward to the day we cross paths again. I’ll take you on that helicopter ride you always complained I never took you on.
My condolences to the entire H2O Family in South Africa. To his immediate family: My heart aches for all of you. Tony leaves a void that will never be filled. He will forever be in our hearts and minds. I will see you soon, I promise.
President & CEO
H2O International USA