IMPORTANT NEWS: National Electric Vehicle Sweden has agreed to buy the assets of Saab Automobile and the sale is expected to be finalized during the summer.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Heroes of Saab: Anna Petre - among the last four

Earlier today I started what I hope to be a series of posts about the heroes of Saab. I never thought that the next chapter would come just a few hours later. But here it is, chapter two.

Anna Petre is a recent hero of Saab. She actually was working to save Saab until the very end. And this is her story. We also get some insight into the last months and the deal. And those of you who are angry at court administrator Lofalk, it could very well be justified.

Here's an interview with Anna Petre by Anna-Karin Nils Gustafsson from today's TTELA (translated by me):

Anna Petre - among the last four

She was one of the four people who attended the Saab talks up until the end: Anna Petre, the lawyer who became Victor Muller's sounding board. Now she sees the end of a destructive autumn - but without relief:

"I can not understand that Saab will not exist."

She had not even done any driving practice on the Saab parking lot like "everybody does", and her plan was to follow in her Dad's footsteps. Anna Petre were to become a criminal court lawyer, but when she was offered an interview at Saab after she had gotten her law degree, she left the Stallbacka factory with the feeling that the people were actually very charming and the atmosphere was very good.

Never regretted
This is now 13 years ago and Petre calls it a life choice she has never regretted a second. In the beginning she devoted herself mainly to monitoring the legal requirement on various markets, which at that time could mean that you kept track of 40 to 50 markets, which all had different rules.

"It included responsibility for the product, because the cars were adapted to the countries they would be sold in," says Petre, who moved on from working at technical to the department of public policy, a "small island inside GM" where amongst other things they were engaged in monitoring social trends for inclusion in the company's product strategy and develop the company's position on various key issues.

Rarely an "easy ride"
Anna Petre's manager sat in Brussels and was the boss of several of her counterparts in various countries under the direction of GM. Saab during the GM era was rarely described as an "easy ride".

"There were different views on the role of Saab and the Saab brand within the huge GM. It felt like accelerating, braking, accelerating, braking," she says.

"Certainly we made substantial investments, like one billion on a paint shop which from an environmental viewpoint was super modern. But you never got a straight answer from GM. Should you invest or not?"

During 2004-2005 there was a raging battle between Trollhättan and Rüsselsheim to get the manufacturing of new GM cars. Anna Petre was involved in negotiating the Trollhätten package with the former Social democrat government. The result can be seen today in the expansion of the E45 highway.

Saw first serious signs
In February 2010, GM finally sold Saab to Spyker Cars. Already in November of that year the Saab management saw the first serious signs of the crisis which would plague Saab Automobile. Jan-Åke Jonsson, which Petre came to work very closely with, was then CEO of the company. Already then it was discovered that the company would run into difficulty in making payments in the first quarter of 2011 if no action was taken.

"We had several leads that we worked on, including Antonov, and Martin Larsson's work with the Chinese parties intensified. But some leads fell, others dragged on."

China lead collapsed
"All the time everything took much longer than planned. The property sales to Hemfosa for example, and the production had already stopped. And the longer it did, the cheaper it was of course for them [Hemfosa]. The first Chinese lead collapsed and the agreement with Hawtai got scrapped, the decision on Antonov dragged on, in parallel with a chase for payroll money. Everything that could go wrong did," Petre summarizes the last months.

"In the end you really felt like you were just waiting for the next disaster."

Petre has during the year received several job offers. But the thought of leaving Saab has never existed.

"You never get to experience this again, that's just how it is. And I would do anything for Saab to survive."

A lot of effort
The same team from TTELA that just before Christmas meets Petre in her home in Trollhättan, met her with Victor Muller in Stockholm at the beginning of the month. Then during the taping of Skavlan [talkshow on TV] where Saab's CEO was one of the guests. A taping which was a short break in one of the thousands of hours of negotiation that took place during the year. Often around the clock as both the U.S. and China was involved.

"We spent the whole summer making the agreements with Youngman and Pang Da," says Petre.

"I remember one Saturday when I left home at 06:30, picked up Martin in Vänersborg and went to Stockholm. There the negotiations lasted until 02:30, and I think that the clock was 07:00 when I drove up here into the parking lot again. I turned 40 that day, and were supposed to have an open house. 75 people came, and fortunately I have a kind mother who had time to shop for me," says Petre.

Victor's sounding board
Up until the end, she was in the small group who worked on the negotiations with Youngman.

"Me and Victor have always gotten along well and this year I became some kind of informal sounding board for him. We still have contact, absolutely, and I hope I get the opportunity to work with Victor again sometime in the future."

Petre describes Muller as an emotional man, often wearing jeans and a hoodie, and who instantly fell asleep in the airplane seat on all journeys. A manager who tried to take advantage of every opportunity.

"If the chance was just five percent, he would still want to test it, and often succeeded," says Petre.

How close were you to a solution?

"The so-called July deal was made in accordance with GM. It was basically just the NDRC's approval which was missing. But then the reconstruction started and Lofalk entered the scene. The signed agreement was ignored and various other business proposals emerged. There were many reasons why the relationship with GM was damaged."

It's only a few days since Saab's CEO filed for bankruptcy. How much have you worked in the past year?

"I have not physically been at work all the time, but I have "been on" constantly. My son Ludvig was on the radio and talked about his mother who works at Saab. "She's e-mailing and talking on the phone" all the time. Shit, I thought when I heard him. That's what I do."

"Politics is politics"
Anna Petre continues:
"Discussions with the Government, the region, the municipality - in the end typically seven updates every day. Things happening every single hour. I have been a chatterbox all year."

At the Ministry of Enterprise, there has been a will to support Saab, according to Petra.

"From the civil servants. There is a genuine interest and understanding of the automotive industry. But politics is politics."

How does it feel now?

"I never thought I would appreciate Saab like this, that's what's so difficult. The products... The incredibly positive engineers. When I started talking about an alcohol lock for example, and everyone just thinks it's amusing. At Saab you have the opportunity to influence. And now I'm not going to work with them anymore. It just hasn't sunk in."

"But," Petre says "We never gave up. That's something I can say about this period."