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.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Jan Åke Jonsson on why the personnel stay at Saab

Swedish journalist Elisabeth Vene at NyTeknik has had a talk with former CEO and hero of Saab, Jan Åke Jonsson, where the main topic was the personnel at Saab and why they have stayed through all that has happened. Below is a translation.

"A strong leader gets people to stay"
- Without the staff’s fighting spirit and loyalty Saab had been closed long ago. That’s according to former CEO Jan Åke Jonsson, who has begun a new career as a lecturer.

Despite all that has happened at Saab Automobile, the loyal staff stay in Trollhättan. Not even the huge programme in recruiting 900 engineers by the neighbour from Gothenburg, Volvo Cars, has changed that. Saab's former CEO Jan Åke Jonsson has three explanations for why employees are so uniquely loyal: the leadership, the auto industry itself and the corporate culture.

- Saab has always been special. Many employees prefer to work with what is unique and a little different, he says.

- It's fun to make cars with driving characteristics that make them fun to drive, said Jan Åke Jonsson, who also arguments about the size of the company.

- In a relatively small company like Saab, you are involved in the whole process and can see the result in a completely different way than in a large group.
The automobile industry itself also affects the staff's attitude.

- The industry is very interesting and attractive, with rapid change.

Jonsson thinks that a fundamental reason that the Saab people likes to work at Saab concerns the Swedish modern leadership. He talks about leadership effectiveness. That loyalty is born out of confidence in management.

- The management is going in the forefront with a very high loyalty. If you can involve the rest of the managers you will have a strong management team. It has worked for me.

He emphasizes the importance of communication with the employees. It should be frequent, he says, and the message consistent and come from a strong belief in the future. There should be room for differences, management must listen to the expertise available within the company. Perseverance is a beacon.

Jan Åke Jonsson, 60, left Saab Automobile last spring. How did you feel after 38 years?

- There were those who asked me to wait a few years. But it requires a huge amount of energy to be CEO and I felt that I would not be able to do another 3-4 intense years.

He would not comment on all that has happened with Muller and the Chinese, "I do not know the details." He would not answer the question if it feels good to not be CEO now.

- Everything is a matter of timing. It was a carefully thought through personal decision that I made last fall, that has nothing to do with how it looks today.

The time that has passed since he left the company last spring, he has devoted to family, children and grandchildren. Now he has started to give lectures on his experiences from Saab. Last week, he was the main attraction at the University of Borås, on a seminar on how to create motivation and commitment in the working life. He’s also open to sitting on boards and other projects where his skills could be of use. But on a completely different level than as chief and CEO.