Summary – the week when I saw Spyker buy Saab

I’ve been on a few trips for Saab purposes over the last five years, but nothing quite as historic as the trip I’ve just returned from.

There have been several eras in Saab’s history – the early years, the Saab-Scania years and the GM years – each period around 20 years in length. What we saw this week was something incredibly rare: the beginning of a new era. I was extremely fortunate to be there and witness it first hand and bring it to you through Saabs United.

This is how it happened.

Warning: It’s a loooooooong entry. More of a short story than a blog post, really.
For me, it meant 10 plane flights in 7 days and multiple different beds in 7 nights. And the whole thing went from conception to execution and completion in around 11 days. Phew.

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Tuesday 16th Feb – I spoke with Victor Muller on the phone just to get an idea of how the deal was progressing and when we might expect it to be completed. During that call, Victor suggested it’d be great if I could make it over there to see it happen. I didn’t need to be asked twice.

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Wednesday 17th Feb – Luckily, I still had 6 days of annual leave up my sleeve. I’d need five to make the trip. I headed down to the travel agent and checked out flights to Gothenburg.

One of the hard parts about this trip was that the venue for the closing of the sale was still unknown until the last minute. Where should I fly to? Gothenburg would give me easier access to Trollhattan, but would the closing take place there? Stockholm would be cheaper and more direct, but that’s not where Saab is.

I chose Gothenburg, which meant a less direct route, but it also meant time in Trollhattan regardless of where the sale was completed, and that I’d get to have a celebratory drink there, which was something that I’d promised to a friend.

Hotel bookings were made for the Swania in Trollhattan for the first three nights and the Airport hotel in Gothenburg for my final night. The rest would be made on the fly once I knew what was happening.

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Saturday 20th Feb – Take off. Hobart to Melbourne at 9am and then Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur at 2pm. Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam, the big flight (13 hrs) left at midnight.

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Sunday 21st Feb – Landed in Amsterdam. Didn’t realise that this would be my check-in point for the EU. I thought I’d just move from my arrival gate to my next departure gate but I had to go through passport control and security screening once again. Consequently I couldn’t carry the bottle of champagne I’d bought for Victor. I hope the Dutch security people enjoyed it. At least I got a new stamp in my passport.

Onwards to Gothenburg. Another 90 minutes in the air and I landed there around 9:30am. Travelling with the sun meant that whilst I’d flown (and waited to fly) for around 35 hours or so, I was landing only 24 hours after I’d left Tassie. I was met at Gothenburg by Dave R from the UK. We’d made that deal to have a drink at the Swania when the deal was done and so here we were.

Welcome to the European winter.

Winter in Tasmania means temperatures between 0 and 10 degrees Celsius and an occasional dusting of snow right at the top of Mount Wellington.

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This particular winter in Sweden is the coldest in around 45 years, so you could imagine the shock when I walked outside the airport in Gothenburg and saw snow absolutely everywhere. The snow plows had cleared the roads but all that snow from the road has to go somewhere and that means embankments up to around 8 feet high in some places. It was magical and intimidating all at the same time.

This isn’t a photo of Gothenburg. It’s a house in Trollhattan, but it’ll give you the idea of what the conditions were like.

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You northerners are probably laughing your heads off at my fascination with the conditions, but imagine if you’d been landlocked your whole life and then came to Australia and saw a warm sandy beach for the first time. I’ve seen snow before, but not like this.

Dave and I set off for Trollhattan and it was a joy to see one of my favourite little cities in the world once again. Somehow, Sweden makes more sense in the winter time. The pitched rooftops are doing their thing and of course, the Saabs are all reveling in the conditions they were built to endure.

We saw one green 2010 Saab 9-5 pulling up at the autobank outside the Swania, but curiously, it took off when we started to head over to it.
Most of the day was spent just looking around, seeing some of the places I’d seen before in a new light. The museum was open but the regular staff weren’t in so we’d catch them the next day.

The view from the hotel room, looking over the river and the bridge:

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One of the hard things was being in Trollhattan, but not being able to say “I’m in Trollhattan” on the website. Because the arrangements for the closing of the sale were quite fluid I was asked to keep my trip to Sweden under wraps until the time was right. It would have been great to catch up with a lot of people while I was there, but I only got to meet up with a few.

By the end of the day I was aware that I’d have to get to Stockholm because that’s where the action would be.

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Monday 22nd Feb

As mentioned earlier, I’ve been on a few Saab-sponsored trips over the years. Those trips are arranged for you, with an itinerary provided. You just get to point 1 on time and then points 2 though 10 (or however many) are taken care of for you.
This was not one of those trips, however.

Monday started with me trying to figure out how I was going to get to Stockholm for the closing the next day and whether or not I’d need to check out of the Swania that morning. If I overstayed checkout then I’d get billed for a night I wouldn’t use. I didn’t even know where I’d go in Stockholm once I got there, but that got settled with an email from VM saying “Meet me for breakfast at the Grand Hotel, 8am”. I now had a starting point.

Everything turned out OK. I headed off to the travel agent once again and booked a flight from Trollhattan to Stockholm at 6:30am the next morning, with a return flight from Stockholm to Gothenburg for my last night in Sweden. Saab made a reservation for me in Stockholm, so accommodation was organised as well. With transport and a roof over my head, I finally felt like things had come together.

We set off to the Saab Museum. Unfortunately, the manager of the Museum, Peter Backstrom, was away ill. We still got to catch up with Ola and Bengt, however, and we all had a good chat about the state of things. To say there’s a happy sense of relief in Trollhattan would be an understatement of significant proportions.

There are some poster-sized prints of the day when Saab workers rallied outside the gates (the day the liquidator was appointed) on the front counter. Other than that, it’s business as usual. Ola was preparing the Saab 93 that Victor Muller will drive in the Mille Miglia for shipping to Geneva. It’ll go on show there prior to having final preparations for the event itself.

The 9-X Air was parked just inside the door and it really does look as good as the pictures promise. It’s one of the best shaped and proportioned cars I’ve ever seen. I don’t like the dashboard at all, but that doesn’t take way from the sheer beauty of this car. If they don’t make it then they’ve got rocks in their head.

The Saab 9-4x was there as well and I was really pleased to see it. Every time I come across this car I like it more and more.

And finally, the Aero-X, which is still sublime. It hasn’t dated at all over the last four years. It is just amazing.

After an hour or so at the museum we went down to visit Alf at the SDCC. This is where they dismantle Saabs and sell the spare parts all over the world. I took you on a photo tour of SDCC back in September. It looked a little different today, however.
This was the SDCC carpark back in September 2009:

And this was the carpark in February 2010:

SDCC

Catching up with Alf is always a pleasure and he gave us an indication of how things have been in Trollhattan these last few months, with all the ups and downs of the sale process. They have a daily meeting at SDCC and he could always tell whether the previous day held good news or bad news by the faces he saw in that meeting. Such was the way of life in Trollhattan, 2009.

We also spied some cutaway engines at SDCC, which will be going to a nearby mechanical school. I’d quite happily have one of these at home as a piece of art.

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That night, we caught up with one of the Trollhattan locals, Mats K, over dinner at the Swania. We all got to finally partake of that drink we’d promised ourselves after the sale was decided. It wasn’t closed yet, but it was near enough to closing for it not to matter.

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Tuesday 23rd Feb
I checked out of the Swania around 5:30am and got a cab to the local airport in Trollhattan. They run three flights a day to Stockholm and hopefully the 6:30am flight I’d booked the previous day would be quick enough to get me to the Grand Hotel in Stockholm for a breakfast appointment with Victor Muller at 8am.
I got there at 8:05.

The Grand Hotel, as its name suggests, is quite a grand hotel. There’s only a road between it and the water and on the other side of the river is the Swedish royal palace. This is the hotel in sunnier times….

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I walked into the Grand Hotel, checked in my suitcase to their holding area and headed towards the dining room. I was carrying a tripod and a backpack so it’s no wonder that when I walked up to Victor and said “You’re definitely the tallest guy in the room” that he just smiled and walked on by. It only just dawned on me right then that he wouldn’t really have any idea what I looked like. I turned back and introduced myself properly and he was quite relieved – he thought the press were now following him to breakfast!

Breakfast was a pretty quick affair. I met a few of the other guys from the Spyker team and we all chatted for around 20 minutes before they had to take off and do ‘boring lawyer stuff’. They were all quite buoyant, however, and had the closing of the deal in their gunsights. There was a lot to get through, but I was told that the goal was to get it done that afternoon.

The Spyker team headed off to GM’s lawyers and I made the coldest ever 300m walk of my life around a couple of corners to my hotel.

After checking in, I headed around a few more corners to Saab’s law firm’s offices. It was around 10am when I got there and we had an open-ended timeline ahead of us. All indications were that it would close today, but nothing in this transaction had gone smoothly so far.

At Roschier (the Saab legal firm) I caught up with some of my mates in Saab’s PR department. Eric, Joe and Jonas (surname unknown) were all there, preparing all the press materials and media schedules for later that night. It’s pretty difficult work when the plan for the day is largely unknown but they worked on, aided by the assistance given by the Charlie’s Angels crew at Roschier.

At 1pm I ventured back to the Grand Hotel to meet up with Ola Killander from Bloomberg. This really was a pleasure. There have been only a few media outlets that have covered the Saab sale in a responsible manner and Bloomberg was one of them so meeting up with Ola was a privilege.

At 2pm, just as we were finishing up, I got the call we’d all been waiting for. Victor suggested that I wouldn’t want to get to GM’s law firm’s offices much later than 3pm.
Time to go. But where? I didn’t know where I was supposed to go.

I headed back to Roschier and was pleased to find out they were all heading over as well. That meant I didn’t have to get lost in Stockholm whilst one of the biggest events in Saab’s history took place without me. I jumped in a taxi with Greg Strange (the man with the incredibly smooth voice) and his cameraman, and away we went.

When we got to the Hammarskiold offices, we walked up to the reception area, announced we were there on Saab’s behalf to cover the Saab-Spyker deal and were promptly asked to wait outside. Not in the reception area, but outside in a room just off the street. It turns out they’re a bit media-wary.

After a few minutes and some consultations, it was Victor-to-the-rescue and we were allowed in.

The Saab deal

This was the room as we first saw it (more pics here). A whole long table full of laptop computers and a big long agenda on a whiteboard. The agenda spelled out all of the tasks they’d been working on that day. We were invited in because the final hurdles in that task had been completed and with those done, it was finally assured that the sale would be completed that day.

The Saab deal

Just after we arrived, I heard someone say “the money’s in” which means that whilst we were waiting around, taking some photos and introducing ourselves, the funds transfer from Spyker to GM was being made and confirmed. How cool is that?

Earlier in the day, Saab had to undergo formal processes for exiting liquidation. This meant the submission of certain documentation and approval from the Swedish authorities. Apparently this all happened with about two minutes to spare according to the formal deadlines in place for the process.

Exiting liquidation was a moment for celebration in itself, however, as it meant the removal of the liquidators appointed by GM. Jan-Ake Jonsson was back in control of Saab again.

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Above – a very happy Jan-Ake Jonsson and Victor Muller wait to sign the final papers prior to the deal being formally closed.

These two guys are polar opposites in terms of their outward persona, but both are very sharp individuals and I think their differences are going to prove to be very complimentary as they work together to steer Saab through its business plan over the coming years.

Jan-Ake gets some occasional flak from the media for being too straight and not smiling enough. He smiled plenty that afternoon, I can tell you.

After a little time waiting for some representatives from the Swedish National Debt Office, it was time to take the final actions and close the Saab deal for good.

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From left to right – Enrico Digirolamo (GM Europe), Scott Mackie (GM), Victor Muller and Jan-Ake Jonsson.

These guys did the final signing of documents and handing over the shares in Saab from General Motors to Saab Automobile. The numbers in the room swelled to around 40 people at this stage and it was actually a pretty emotional moment. There was a huge round of applause in celebration of the moment, followed by a champagne toast.

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You could tell that everyone in the room really cared a lot about this transaction. This was not the mere selling of some machinery from one company to the other. Just like the cars have a way of getting under your skin, it seems the company has, too.

After the sale was concluded, we headed back to Roschier (Saab’s lawyers) where there was a small press conference scheduled for the Swedish media, as well as conference calls for dealers and media in the US and UK (Q&A session notes here).

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I’ll be posting video from the press conferences shortly, though I think you’ve seen most of that already. Unfortunately, I was posting pictures from the actual deal room whilst the conference call with dealers was happening, so I didn’t get to sit in on that one. I wish I had.

With all the dealer and media calls out of the way, we walked back to the Grand Hotel for the big celebration dinner.

I have to tell you straight up that whilst I took my camera, I didn’t take any photos. Somehow it just didn’t seem right. I felt like I was standing on the outside, looking in on a world that was not part of my world. I was the only person in the room who was not a Saab employee or who was outside of the actual deal process.
I was made to feel very welcome there and I did feel a very real kinship with all of these people. But the discussions and speeches I heard that night made it very clear to me, as that outsider, that I was being trusted to observe these people with their guard down and respect that trust.

I’ve shared a couple of observations from that night already, so I’ll leave it at that. Suffice to say it was an incredible evening and the perfect ending to an incredible, history-making day.

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Wednesday 24th Feb
I ran into Saab’s head legal counsel, Kristina Geers over breakfast the next morning. She’d lost her voice at the party the previous night but was looking pretty fresh for someone who’d only left the party four hours previous. Apparently the rest of the lawyers were still going strong at that stage.

I left the Grand Hotel at 1am and had just woken up. It was around 8:30 or so, which means Victor Muller had already been up for several hours in order to do a live TV appearance that morning. When I left the Grand at 1am, he was still holding court at the bar and in fine form.

I wish I had the energy in that man’s big toe. It’d be an upgrade on my whole being.
Stockholm was looking absolutely magnificent this morning. It was a beautiful sunny morning and whilst someone told me it was -7 or thereabouts, it actually felt quite nice. Given all that had happened the day before, I was genuinely sad to be leaving this place. Hopefully I can come back again soon.

Whilst Victor Muller was in Trollhattan, picking up his new 9-5 for the drive back to Holland, I made my way to Arlanda Airport for flight number six of that week. I picked up a few souvenirs while I was there, too 🙂

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That night I had a final dinner with Dave and wrote a little bit of content here on SU. I had to crash reasonably early as I had a wake-up call booked for 4:30am so I could put on my shorts and make my 6:25am flight on time, which I did.

The next few days saw me fly G’burg-Amsterdam then Amsterdam-KL. The final leg for the day was KL-Melbourne, where I stayed overnight with family.

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Saturday 27th Feb
Home. The end of a week I will never forget.

My eternal thanks to Victor Muller, Jan-Ake Jonsson and the team at Saab for allowing me to tag along, observe and share the stories with all of you.

It really was the perfect ending to a story that was 15 months in the making.

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