To quote from a seasonal song…….It’s beginning to look a lot like (the) Christmas (from hell) for Joran Hagglund, who must now be regarded as the second-hardest working man in Sweden. Jan-Ake Jonsson remains in first position on that table.
You’ve only got your staff and the SNDO to blame, Mr Hagglund, but please don’t be dis-heartened and please keep moving along. What we need now is a result.
The hard part about getting a result now is that Saab belong to GM, and GM can sell to a party of their choosing. At this late stage of the game, they have chosen Spyker. Whispers coming through from Sweden say that Spyker have been super-impressive in their knowledge and their work ethic and are powering along through this process. That might indicate that this would be a fait accompli, but nothing’s ever that simple (which is where Mr Hagglund comes in).
Whilst Saab is GM’s to sell, any buyer looking to take Saab on are going to want the EIB loan, which means Swedish government guarantees are involved. That means Mr Hagglund has to make a decision about whether or not to put the Swedish government in bed with the new owners.
It’s a matter of perception only, really. The government guarantees are covered by Saab assets valued at around 150% of what’s actually being loaned, so there is no risk to the Swedish taxpayers’ money. But financial risk isn’t the only risk involved here. There is the political risk as well.
Well, there’s a lot of mud being flung at Spyker right now by the Swedish media. Robert Collin at Aftonbladet has been particularly scathing, as has TV4. Apparently they aired a story last night that had the Antonovs (who own around 30% of Spyker) painted in a very poor light with all sorts of shady connections. Apparently it was also particularly shoddy from a journalistic standpoint, but we know that if you throw enough mud, some of it will stick.
So you have a pile of dirt thrown at Spyker. Whether it be accurate or not (and I really don’t know one way or another), this puts Joran Hagglund in a delicate situation, with plenty of risk involved. And this is the big thing – it’s not the truth about the Antonovs that matters so much right now, it’s the level of risk that the Swedish government are willing to bear that will resolve this situation, one way or the other.
On one hand, you have the seller, General Motors, who have said they will deal only with Spyker and that if they don’t deal with Spyker, they will close down the company and 10,000 jobs will be effected, most of them lost.
On the other hand, you risk handing the keys of the EIB to a character you may not have adequate time to investigate properly.
The consequeces of making the wrong decision here could be politically catastrophic, and whilst Joran Hagglund is a public servant rather than a politician, he’s most likely under no illusion from his boss that She
wants has to look good when this is all done and over.
What to do?
Maybe Robert Collin has a point? If Joran Hagglund can’t satisfy himself as to the character of some of the people backing Spyker, then maybe the state should recant their position of not owning a car company and take control of Saab temporarily until they can find the right buyer. Maybe that is the scenario that involves the least political risk.
They know buyers are out there for a reorganised company like Saab. They know that Saab have operating cash thanks to the BAIC transaction. Can they negotiate with GM for more time so as to give these buyers a proper review? After all, the successful sale of this company and the jobs of the people are more important than an arbitrary deadline, aren’t they? (Don’t answer that.)
The choice of buyer was been made by General Motors and Deutsche Bank and we know that there were other financially viable choices out there. Why did GM make this choice and dismiss others out of hand? Can anything be done about it? (I know. Don’t answer that, either)
I don’t know the truth about the Russian connections to Spyker. I suspect they’re nowhere as scary as TV4 would have you believe, but I dont think they’re boy scouts, either. I believe that the Spyker people themselves – the car guys – could make a successful venture out of Saab ownership and for Saab’s sake I hope that the recent dramas in the Swedish media are much ado about nothing. Saab deserve this chance.
The question is whether there’s enough time for the decision makers to find out. I hope it’s a very short Christmas for everyone involved, because this matter doesn’t stop for a fat guy in a red suit.