Enthusiast first. Employee (close) second.
One of the reports that’s really turned into a kick in the guts for a lot of the people that I talk to at Saab, and for our dealer body worldwide, is a report going around via the Associated Press at the moment. It’s basis was in Swedish media late last week and elements of this report are now being circulated via AP.
The original report covered the decision of a Swedish dealership chain to drop Saab from its inventory. Holmgrens Bil, the dealership in question, is led by a gentleman named Benny Holmgren and he’s quoted in media as follows (translation from the original Swedish by Stockholm News):
For me, it is important to be proud of the brands that we have. SAAB does not deliver cars as they promise, they do not pay wages to their employees, nor debts to its suppliers, while the owners pick out big money. It does not feel right.
If that quote seems familiar, it’s because I also used it the other day in talking about how erroneous reports can create erroneous perceptions about the company.
There’s a deeper problem, here, however. What motivates a guy like Benny Holmgren to say this?
As noted by one of his colleagues in a report by TTELA, Holmgren has been a Saab dealer for around 20 years. He built his business largely on the back of our products and he proudly notes that his chain is one of the top 5 Saab dealers in the world. That business has grown to such an extent that BMW recently approved Holmgrens Bil’s acquisition of a BMW/Mini franchise. In some ways, we’re pleased for him. Happy dealers are good dealers and we’d love for all of our dealers to be happier right now. But if you’re going to leave a 20-year relationship that’s helped you to grow and build your base for the future, then why leave it by kicking a former business associate so viciously when they’re down?
We are very concerned for our dealerships around the world. We know they have businesses, employees and families to think about and we know that some are taking decisions to either scale back, suspend or even cease their involvement with Saab. We want to hold on to every one of them and get back to building cars for them, but we know that our current situation makes life as hard for them as it is for us.
A decision can be respected. But a public questioning and denouncement of our morals on the way out?
Saab’s problem right now comes down to one thing and one thing only – a cash shortage. We didn’t have enough cash to meet obligations at one stage earlier this year and key suppliers made a decision that it was too big a risk for them to allow us to trade our way out of that situation. To win them back, we need to find the cash.
Our fault. Our task to fix. We are working on it flat-out.
We have set deals in motion to ensure the long term future of the company. We have to wait for those deals to be approved and in the meantime, we need to find a bridge to that future.
We have tried to remain communicative about the situation, but every missed deadline that we’ve communicated leads to a degree of public condemnation, regardless of the sincerity of the stated goal. We now communicate developments when they happen and simply assure as best we can that we’re working to bridge the problem, which we are.
Contrary to the quote above, we have paid our workers, even those who have been idled by the production stoppage for some months now. There have been timing issues with recent payments but we’ve made efforts to overcome those because we are committed to keeping our workforce intact.
And again, contrary to the quote above, our supervisory board members are not taking money out of the company. On the contrary, they haven’t been paid for some time.
Mr Holmgren’s press statement did two things: It got his name and new franchises in the paper and it made life even more difficult for his (former) contemporaries in Saab dealer-land. I also note with some disappointment and some fear that parts of the media are now actively seeking similar stories and statements from Saab dealers and staff.
We know that we have only one solution to our situation – finding the finance to get things going again on a continual basis. We’re certainly doing all that we can and our #1 goal is still getting back to building cars and supporting our customers and our dealership network.
We certainly appreciate the support that our dealerships have shown for us, and for our mutual customers.