I haven’t seen my old boss – Saab’s former Chairman and CEO, Victor Muller – since around October 2011. We’ve shared a few quick emails and phone calls since then, but that’s about all.
Prompted by a phone call with another former Saab colleague earlier this week, I decided to give Victor a call and see what’s going on. In doing so I found a Victor Muller who was as driven as ever, as busy as ever, but much more at peace with himself and the world.
There was a lot to recover from, too; much more than the very public battle to try and save Saab Automobile.
Victor lost his father and his sister during the fight to save Saab in 2011. These were the intensely personal parts of his “year from hell”, the parts that few people knew about until after the drama had unfolded. There were health issues, too, such as an emergency operation on his gall bladder in 2010, a procedure that he was still recovering from when I had my informal job interview with him, along with Jan-Ake Jonsson, at the LA Auto Show in November that year.
“For the first 8 months of my daughter’s life, I never saw her” he mentions. She was born in February 2011, just weeks before the factory shutdown that eventually led to Saab’s bankruptcy. He’s now spending his time mostly between the family home on Mallorca and Spyker’s HQ in Holland. That same daughter, now 18 months, is finally getting to know her Dad.
Saab’s dramas still cut deep with Victor but as sad as he is to have seen the company fall, the personal relief at getting his life back is palpable when you speak to him. When I raised the topic of Saab’s new ownership under NEVS, Victor is pleased for Trollhattan and for former employees who might have the opportunity to work at Stallbacka again. Like me, however, he seems lost when it comes to understanding how it is that NEVS are going to do what they plan to do.
“I haven’t come across anyone who is able to explain to me what NEVS does and how they’ll do it, but I’m sure someone, one day, will be able to explain it to me”, he says.
Victor is still dealing with fallout from his time with Saab. There is the ongoing taxation case brought by the Swedish government….
I will fight that to the highest court
….. and the case against General Motors:
We will lodge our defence against their motion to dismiss on November 9 and it will carry on from there.
Most of his time now, however, is spent rebuilding Spyker, the sports car business that nearly went down with Saab.
It’s been a tough, long road to save the tiny boutique company, but Spyker is building cars once again. The bodies are built in England and then shipped to Holland for full assembly.
Spyker will finally re-emerge on the show circuit at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2013. At that show, they also plan to talk about the other thing that’s taking much of Victor’s time – the business deal with Chinese Saab aspirant, Youngman.
Spyker and Youngman signed several agreements back in August, one of which was to build the Spyker Peking to Paris SSUV (P2P) and possibly other vehicles on the SSUV platform. They also agreed on a joint venture to develop vehicles using the licences that Youngman hold for parts of the Phoenix platform that Saab were developing when the company entered bankruptcy.
This deal surprised me. In the heat of 2011’s battle, the relationship between Youngman and Saab was tense, to say the least. I asked Victor about that earlier this year.
“That was then. We’ve had a lot of time to talk more, without the desperation that was involved with saving Saab. We’ve made a lot of progress and there is still a lot of mutual interest in working together.”
The good part for Spyker, and for Victor, when it comes to this agreement is that the pressure valve has been released. They don’t have any vehicles yet (beyond the P2P) and there is plenty of work to be done before they will. But on the other hand, they also have minimal costs (Saab’s factory cost around 5 million Euros per month when it wasn’t operating), there is no public timetable to meet and there are no creditors breathing down their necks. Things will get done in their own time.
There is still a lot of water to flow under the bridge for Victor Muller and his automotive aspirations. He has his critics, but I’m not one of them. I saw how hard he worked for Saab during those long, dark months. In the few moments he was actually in Trollhattan rather than seeking funds somewhere around the world, I saw the exhaustion and the pain first hand. I’m pleased that he’s been able to salvage Spyker and I look forward to seeing what he might be able to do with Youngman.
Victor Muller remains an individual, a man who possesses a lot of that independent spirit that Saab was built on. It’s a black mark against his name that he wasn’t able to save the company but in talking to him, you sense that the fight for redemption – a personal redemption rather than a public one – is only just beginning.