The deal to sell Saab came through in the late afternoon for me here in Australia. There were a couple of conference calls back to the office and a few emails here and there, just to try and share the moment with my colleagues back in Sweden. It’s hard being so far away, sometimes.
I wanted to provide some personal thoughts in a more timely manner, but bottom line……. I had to sleep on this one.
Right now, I have mixed feelings for a number of reasons. They’re much more positive than negative, but I can’t say it’s a case of parades and marching bands inside my head right now.
Strap in. This is another long-ish one.
The good news – the overwhelmingly good news – is that Saab survives and gets a chance to fulfil the promise that it’s had for the last couple of years. I forget the number of times that I’ve spelled out exactly why Saab should be given this chance, but it goes a little something like this:
Product: We have the biggest product portfolio we’ve ever had, with cars that are going to meet the marketplace better than ever, and more new product on the way very soon. Some of the technical innovations we’ve got coming are very, very exciting indeed. Some will be firsts for Saab and some will be world firsts. I’m so very happy that Saab fans will get the chance to see them.
Plant: We’ve got an extremely flexible and modern plant in Trollhattan that forms a big part of who we are. We are Swedish. We do things well. And this is where it all comes together. We’ll take that manufacturing know-how and share it with our new manufacturing facilities as they’re developed in China, which is a very exciting development for the future of this company.
People: Every company’s biggest asset is its people and Saab’s are second to none. Competitors were trying like crazy to take our people during the course of this year. They got a couple of them, too, but the overwhelming majority of them wanted to stay and be part of the Saab story. We talk of the Saab Spirit and I’m sure a lot of people think we’re nuts, but it’s very real and quite compelling. It’s about being part of a small company that confounds the critics and punches well above its weight. It’s about delivering things that are done a certain way for a reason. The lure of fulfilling that mission is a strong one.
Brand: There’s no doubt our brand has taken some punches in the last 6 months or so, but we know that we still have a lot of people on our side. We’re still a global premium carmaker with a sales presence in over 50 markets around the world, with 60+ years of history. We still have an identity as a design-driven carmaker from Scandinavia and that won’t change regardless of who our owners are.
These factors have been in place all along and despite that fact that nearly everybody (including quite a few nobodies) wrote us off in the last six months, we knew that we were an attractive proposition.
A fully functional car company with a global presence and excellent design and technical capability doesn’t come along every day. “Potential” can be one of the cruellest words in the English language, but there’s plenty of it unfulfilled here at Saab and finally, we’re going to have the resources we need to fill out that vision.
So why the mixed feelings?
You would think that someone who’s seen the Godfather trilogy as much as I have would understand the distinction between ‘business’ and ‘personal’. For me, though, it doesn’t get much more personal than this particular business.
Right now I’m smouldering over the treatment this company has received at the hands of some and I’m trying to figure out how to bury that and move on into the future.
I’m also feeling quite saddened at the treatment of our Chairman and stand-in CEO, Victor Muller. It’s been heartening to see many in Saab community thanking him quite sincerely for his efforts in relation to this company.
A lot of people in the press and the opinion pages, however, have painted him in a very bad light and it tempers my happiness to think that his reputation has been sullied by what’s happened here at Saab. There have been accounts in certain media circles that paint him in the same light as a snake-oil salesman, as someone syphoning off Saab’s money and leaving the company for dead, or worse. All of them absolutely false. These images have raged for nearly two years now and have placed an incredibly bright light on Saab, magnifying every little thing that happened here. I don’t think there has been another company in Sweden that’s had to work under such intense scrutiny in the last two years and it’s certainly arguable that that scrutiny has influenced people in both the general public and in some official circles.
Personally speaking, the future of Saab Automobile matters to me more than the business future of Victor Muller. I was a Saab enthusiast long before I ever heard his name. But that doesn’t mean that the reputation and characterisation of Victor Muller doesn’t matter to me.
Victor Muller saved this company from liquidation back in 2010 by having the vision, courage and tenacity to pursue a deal to buy this company when everyone, including it’s owner, said it was to be closed.
Victor Muller will most likely be remembered by many as the person at the helm when things went bad for Saab in 2011. I’m sure he’s not entirely blameless, too, but Saab’s executive consisted of a team of people and the truth (as I see it) is that we struggled to get out of the culture we had lived in for the previous 10 years at an adequate speed. We didn’t sell enough cars, largely because of this failure to adapt quickly to our new circumstances. We had an acute cashflow problem that brought us down this year, but that cashflow problem should not be pinned on one person when there was a team making the decisions.
Hopefully Victor Muller will be remembered as many of us at Saab saw him in the last few months. Not the exceedingly tired guy you heard on the radio yesterday, but as the guy who once again exhausted himself finding a solution that would allow this company to live on. He said he would never, ever give up, and he never, ever did.
It’s been said in these early hours following the deal that Victor will still be around at Saab after the company changes hands, possibly in a consultancy role of some sort after we hand over to a new CEO. I sincerely hope that is the case. Despite what people outside the company might read about him in the papers, he’s a man with an inspiring vision for what Saab could be, an entrepreneurial vision that very few others possess and more than anything else, he fights with every fibre in his being for what he believes in.
Back to business…….
This IS a good day for Saab Automobile.
I know a lot of people have been hoping the best for this car company. They’re fans of the brand, automotive writers, and others in the motoring community. I know there are a lot of people hoping that we can deliver on the promise that the Saab ethos offers.
I also know we’ve got a long road ahead of us when it comes to that.
I’m also mindful of the fact that this deal isn’t done and dusted just yet. There are approvals to be obtained and those talks have to happen very quickly.
We also have to get acquainted with our new owners, which will be an interesting process in itself. Aside from their basic corporate presence in China, I personally know little about them except that one offers an incredibly exciting distribution network in the largest automotive market in the world, whilst the other offers a tremendous capacity to develop manufacturing in that same market. Both of these will be key parts to Saab’s growth in the future and it’s going to be fascinating to be part of that journey.
All going well, the hard work for the whole company will begin mid-November. I’m told that’s the time when we should be able to forecast a definite date for the recommencement of production and that’s when the job of rebuilding this brand begins.
To those of you who have maintained your support for Saab, I hope you stay on board with us in the future. This company has changed hands once again, but the vision for our products and the people delivering on that vision will remain and we can’t wait to get moving once again.