Interview with an ice-cold Jan-Ake Jonsson

My thanks to Arild for sending this through, from Chef.se (which I think is not for, or about Chefs)
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“I am an ice cold individual”
Jan-Ake Jonsson, CEO of Saab, has had a tough year. The company has been mangled by the media and he has been called a bad leader. But what has disturbed him most is the statement on wind energy.
Henrik Frenkel interviewed Jan-Ake Jonsson, CEO of Saab:

How is the mood at Saab right now?
-Incredibly excited. It may sound strange, but it’s due to 4 000 people waiting for one thing: that we shall get started as a separate company in a new structure.
It was not like this one year ago. Then you were on the brink of bankruptcy?
-Then our owner had run out of money. And General Motors money dried up faster and faster. Then you had to prioritize what activities you could not afford to maintain. During that period, it was certainly tough for many people in our company. There was huge motivation, but also very much uncertainty.
The information you got from the media was that you had lost money fifteen years in a row, and GM did not want to keep you. What could you say as a counterweight?
-I committed myself very intensively into communicating both internally and externally at the time. But the external communication was not always so much fun. It focuses very much on the person. And it affects both the employee and family. I tried to be out and meet with the media often, whether it was bad or good news. I said to the employees “if you don’t hear the news from me, then do not believe what you hear”.
And the Swedish government has been very indifferent to you?
-During a certain period in March and April the debate was very negative. It put down the Swedish brand, and I think that is bad. And I have expressed my opinion about that to high level individuals within the government and also to the media. I think that was important. One gets confidence in me as a leader if I take action to defend the company when we become unduly criticized.
Maud Olofsson said, for example, that Saab should build windmills instead of cars?
-It was so stupid to say that it was not worth commenting on. Swedish automotive industry has been built up over 80 years and we have a fantastic supplier structure. If you want to throw it in the garbage, and only invest in wind, then it does not sound serious to me. I was probably most disappointed that a person in such a position expressed herself that way. I thought it was amateurish.
How have you been able to motivate yourself during this difficult time?
-You must have something you believe in. And it should not be a naive view, it must be based on facts. You also need to be extremely knowledgeable in details. You must have a good grasp of what you believe in, otherwise it is difficult to argue. But even the personality is important. I’m a fairly calm and sometimes cold individual. I’m maybe not as emotional as others. If you have that security, then it is quite easy to go through the storms.
When Koenigsegg came up on the table as a buyer, didn’t they appear quite odd?
-When you go through the various candidates, you try to analyze “who are these odd characters who has come here”. That’s how I think some of the Saab people was thinking.
If the economic solution that will be ready by the end of October cracks, what do you do?
-We have a range of alternative plans, some riskier than others. But what we’re working on right now is very solid.
Do you see it as an option that Saab should be closed?
-No, I do not. It costs a lot of money to close down a business. And there are great values in Saab, and many would like a part of that.
You are a part of Saab’s history, Saab’s history of losses. Are you out of the company if new money arrives?
– I go out? Yes, that’s life in these situations [sometimes]. But it is the part of the challenge. That’s something a man has to accept. Life is tough.

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