There were times when I felt like a broken record whilst working on Inside Saab in the latter part of 2011.
As Swedish Automobile was a company listed on the Dutch stock exchange, the official company line was that we couldn’t say anything about the ongoing negotiations taking place to try and save the company. Inside Saab was an official company site and any detailed commentary on the process had the potential to influence our stock price. Consequently, statements were limited to basic corporate press releases, which were usually written by Swedish Automobile rather than by Saab.
From a personal perspective, I’d previously built my own identity on relevant, insightful, accurate and timely coverage of the Saab sale throughout 2009/10, so the restrictions placed on me were a bitter pill. I’d been hired to write about the company because of my profile and yet my hands were completely tied. I’ll write more about the mechanics of my role at a later date.
My writings were therefore largely confined to perspective pieces, trying to keep focus on the significant assets we had at Saab – our new products, our excellent people and facilities, our heritage and worldwide brand status. There was nothing false in those writings and I believe to this day that all of those assets still contain plenty of value. Whilst the human resources part of the equation has diminished somewhat, with a number of experienced staff taking new jobs in related industries or competitor companies, enough key staff remain to make the task of rebuilding a definite possibility.
The bottom line – Saab was worth saving, and remains so right now. It is still an excellent company with global reach and excellent products, which are only slated to improve.
One of the biggest frustrations I’ve had in years of covering Saab has been dealing with the fallout of what are either incorrect, knee-jerk, lazy or otherwise fist-chomping media reports about the company. I would estimate that only around 15% of what you can read in any given news search about Saab is the result of diligent, objective journalism. The rest of it is lazy regurgitation, laced with some catchy zingers aimed at bringing readers back just one more time.
It’s tempting and quite easy to simply dismiss much of this coverage for the crud that it is – but it can also be a mistake. Personally speaking, I think it’s a mistake we made too often at Saab. Despite many of these reports being little more than speculation or narrow-minded opinion, the fact remains that they are out there. They do get read. They do have influence. IMHO, the common themes in them should be addressed. I think we should have stood up for ourselves more often, and with some strong conviction.
When our first application for reconstruction was refused by the District Court in Vänersborg, the judge actually cited what he considered to be irreparable damage done to the brand’s reputation in global markets. This caused a fair bit of conversation in the office – and rightly so. The judge’s job was to decide whether or not the company could successfully undertake an organisational and financial reconstruction. He was neither required, nor qualified, to talk about the state of the brand’s reputation, even in Sweden (and certainly not in France, Taiwan or Australia, just three of our 50+ markets).
The judge’s written opinion had most likely been influenced to some degree by the blanket, and largely negative, coverage that Saab had received in the Swedish press over the preceding 20 months or so. (I should hasten to add that despite the judge’s comments being, IMHO, off point, the actual decision may well have been the right one, based on criticism I’ve heard of our application documents).
Today, Saab is in bankruptcy proceedings and if the news reports from the more reputable sources are to be believed, the receivers are negotiating with several well-resourced parties from various countries. The exact intentions of those parties with respect to continued operations in Sweden are unknown, but I hope they are going to continue operations there, at least in terms of design, development and engineering.
Despite the lack of certainty, it’s heartening that these companies are emerging. The only reason they are there is because they recognise that there is some value in Saab’s operations. It gives some validation to that broken record I was playing in the latter months of 2011 – that Saab has some outstanding things going for it, attributes that are of distinct value to the right investors.
The peanut gallery at the shallow end of the motoring media pool will have their way. Should Saab’s story continue, they will continue to make their whipcrack remarks about Saab and I’m sure that they’ll see this continuing story as one about a company that needs to be euthanised rather than revived.
I don’t agree with them in the slightest and it’s my sincere hope, should a new company arise from the ashes of Saab’s bankruptcy proceedings, that this new company stands up for itself and is proud of the foundations it’s built upon, and what it’s about to achieve with its new products. I hope they shout it from the rooftops.
Once again, Saab is worth saving.
Don’t let the bastards get you down.