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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Writer of the book "Circus Muller": Saab needs a new CEO fast

After Jan Åke Jonsson announced his retirement last week, media all over the world have analysed what this will mean for Saab. Earlier today I wrote that bnet thinks that Saab will prosper in the years to come, despite Jan Åke Jonsson's retirement. Marianne Sterner at Swedish car magazine Vi Bilägare thinks that Jan Åke Jonsson's retirement can be seen as a sign of Saab doing well. Her reason is that he would never retire if Saab was doing bad. My own conclusion is that Jan Åke Jonsson has done a great job saving and restarting Saab, and that it seems sensible to let someone else take on the challenge to run Saab under normal business conditions.

The big question is who will be the next CEO. When someone steps down, someone new steps up. Golfhunter over at Saablog-In suggested Knut Simonsson as the new CEO. Great suggestion! Someone suggested Mats Fägerhag over in comments at SaabsUnited. Great suggestion! I want a tough and straight-shooting CEO and suggested Bo I. Andersson.

Jens B Nordström, a journalist at Swedish TV4, has written a book about Victor Muller and his work at Spyker. He doesn't make any suggestions for new CEO at Saab, but he paints a rather bleak picture if Victor Muller's abilities as CEO, and says that Saab needs a new CEO fast. Remember that this is just one man's conclusion, but none-the-less, it should be taken seriously. Below is what Nordström says about Victor Muller as CEO.

Jens B Nordström: Please Muller, see your own limitations
Victor Muller is good at starting new projects - but as CEO, he is highly dangerous for Saab, writes Jens B Nordström.

It would be a disaster for Saab if Victor Muller stayed as CEO of the company. In Saab management team they now say openly that Muller should not prolong his time as CEO.

I talked with Mats Fägerhag, Technical Director at Saab on Friday, after news of Jan-Åke Jonsson's unexpected retirement - and the not so unexpected report about another billion loss. Mats Fägerhag is a member of the management team and does not mince his words about Muller's suitability.

- His knowledge of certain areas is quite limited. He is by no means as complete as Jan-Åke Jonsson was, said Fägerhag.

Saab executives are right to fear Muller as CEO. I have reviewed his efforts at Spyker. Muller appears as skilful at coming up with ideas and with a god-blessed talent to attract money. But his attempts at managing the daily operations of Spyker has been a fiasco. Victor Muller's forecasts of sales and profit miss the target all the time. He makes expensive investments that fail. And when the legal professional Victor Muller wants to act as an engineer, it often turns out quite wrong.

Maarten de Bruijn who founded Spyker, along with Muller, has under interviews provided me with countless examples of how Victor Muller promises customers impossible things. ABS brakes, although there is no ABS system for the Spyker cars. New engines that do not exist. It all forced Maarten de Bruijn to constantly putting out fires within Spyker.

A typical example is when Victor Muller decided that Spyker should compete in the Le Mans 24-hours race. As soon as Maarten de Bruijn asked for extra money to develop a racing car the answer was:

- No, we can not afford it.

When Spyker in the end is at the start in Le Mans with a rather amateurish built car, Muller suddenly sweeps into the arena. In tow, he has a giant hot air balloon with Spyker's logo on it.

- It is typical of how Victor reasons. Paying bills is boring, so I do not care to do it. But a hot air balloon is fun, I want to do it," says Maarten de Bruijn.

Another worrying example is that Victor Muller has already been fired as CEO of Spyker once. In May 2007, the sports car manufacturer was an inch from bankruptcy after a Formula 1 effort had gone wrong. The company was bleeding, suppliers refused to ship parts and everybody was convinced that the company was only weeks or days from collapsing. But Victor Muller sat and was sketching on a new and expensive head office that would look like the Spyker propeller logo from above. An activity that under the circumstances seems quite absent-minded. The whole adventure ended with the other owners finally firing the tall Dutchman from the CEO post. Muller had to spend six months out in the cold, before he managed to maneuver himself back in as CEO of Spyker.

I have deep respect for Muller, in many ways. He is good at enthusing people and to launch new projects. But what Saab needs right now is a CEO who can keep control of the money, prioritise right, and above all - to boost car sales! These are areas in which Victor Muller has repeatedly failed.

I think that Saab's management team, just like me, get worried that Victor Muller has shown a strong interest in participating in and manage the daily operations of Saab. That he either will hire a weak president, that he himself can control. Or worse – that he decides to remain in the CEO position himself. What Saab needs right now is a strong, down to earth CEO. Victor Muller has repeatedly within Spyker shown that he is anything but that. If he remains as CEO of Saab, it may be the death for the car manufacturer in Trollhättan.

JENS B NORDSTRÖM is a business journalist on TV4. In the book "Circus Muller", he has examined Victor Muller's economic adventures in the sports car and F1 world.


So what to think of all this? I have no idea. I do not know Victor Muller, Maarten de Bruijn, Jens B Nordström or what Saab needs. But I will say this: I hope Victor Muller finds a new CEO that is strong and a straight-shooter. Some one who can take control of Saab and someone who everybody accepts as boss.

To Swedish radio the writer of "Circus Muller" also says the following good things about Victor Muller:

Victor Muller has great strengths that I believe may be beneficial for Saab in the future. [....]
One of Muller's strengths is the ability to find money, something that Jens B Nordström believe will be beneficial for Saab which may need more capital in the times to come.

Update: I have now read the book Circus Muller and I enjoyed it. There are great parallels between how Victor Muller has handled Spyker and how he now handles Saab. The great enthusiasm, "the sky is the limit" attitude, the constant search for new investors, the great and maybe unrealistic plans for the future, etc etc. The list goes on. Victor Muller is great with the media and great at promoting his companies. The other good news is that Muller has saved Spyker time and time again when everybody thought the company would go bankrupt. And there is not question that his heart is in both Spyker and Saab. He truly wants the two car brands to succeed. But I agree with Nordström. Saab needs a professional and levelheaded CEO! Victor Muller can handle the media and investors, but someone else needs to handle the day to day operation of Saab.