Victor – my personal view on a tall dutchman

It was back in 2009, in the middle of the storm. Koenigsegg had just quit negotiations with Saab and we were waiting for Swade to inform us how things would go on as a new name appeared: Spyker. I had no idea who those guys should be besides some dark rememberance of a Formula 1 team that had been not too successful. We found out a bit more and came across the leading guy: Victor Muller. We all pretty much remember how this went on. He and his team kept fighting windmills (in any way you can read this) until they had taken over Saab from GM. It was a very emotional story and as a result many here got a quite emotional view at the guy who saved Saab.

It’s a well known fact that emotional views have a backside. They can turn around quite harsh if something goes wrong. And it looks like this applies here, too. Many people among the community have become extremely critical to say the least. There are people who’d like to see him go away, who put all the blame on him for everything that went wrong, who even said that he was a criminal before any proof was shown. Needless to say that the proof has never been there. Thankfully those extreme reactions are a minority here at SU.

Not that I want to saint him, he has surely made his mistakes. But I really want to lift it from that emotional stage to a more reflected view. He has archieved quite a lot for the company and I’d like people to be fair when judging him. Actually I’ve been carrying around the idea for this post for quite a while and it’s a fitting coincidence that it is going online on Victors birthday. So here we go…

There is absolutely no use in the question if Victor was the right candidate to buy Saab. In a nutshell, at the time of need there was noone else who was accepted by GM and willing to play their game. Some say that Victor maybe accepted too much of GMs demands but did he really have a choice? GM showed quite frankly that they were just willing to wind down the company if nessesary. He still came back even though he lost his investor and quite a bit of investment. He may have given up a bit of safety buffer, we don’t know too much about the details. It doesn’t really matter now, he was at least willing to take the risk and finalize the sale. If he hadn’t been there, Saab would most likely be gone by now.

The Swedish press have not been very favourable when it comes to Victor. Or Saab in general. I still do not get this. Some suspected a conspiracy but I came to the conclusion that this has been mostly caused by a lack of research. Lots of the reports about the chances for the Chinese deal were mainly based on one so called expert for the Chinese automotive sector. Not too solid if you ask me. Victor said that Saab would have access to the money to pay the wages and he was accused of hiding money from the enforcement agency. What became to that? Nothing. The list could go on. To be fair I have to mention there were of course people like Robert Collin who chose to take a more professional, reflected position.

The bad thing about these headlines is that they burn into the common remembrance even though they may be proven wrong. So the damage is done anyway and I really wonder if the press is aware of what they are doing. Now as NDRC progress became known and due to the appeal lots of infos were disclosed people could really see how much potential there is in Saab. Getting to read the archievements Saab has made until today may have been quite interesting for some journalists with sources from the inside. Victor was right being optimistic about Saabs future and the timeline concerning the Pang Da/Youngman deal. Maybe a touch too enthusiastic at some point but it’s the outcome that counts.

When JÅJ retired Victor stepped in as an interim CEO. This has been criticised a lot in publich and all the time someone shows up demanding Saab to get a new CEO. I agree. And Victor does, too. But considering what Saab went through since April it is no big surprise that they just could not attract the right person to step up. Saab needs an experienced CEO to run the day to day business at the company. And I am pretty sure that we’ll see an appointment as soon as the current situation calms down a bit.

I’ve recently read that it was said that Victor is always after the money and he mostly works with other people’s funds. Err, he is a businessman, right? So it is in my opinion part of his job to be after money and if it is needed to secure the respective funds to finance the company he leads. When times got tougher some commenters accused Victor of redirecting the Chinese funds in his own pockets. Do you really think that Victor is that dumb? I don’t. If he had come for the quick buck he would already been gone because he had realized that it can’t be made with Saab. On the contrary, he has been hunting for investors around the globe. China, Brazil, USA, then back to Sweden in the centre of the crossfire and again the other way around. Some hours at home with his family must have been pretty rare. Tough for the father of a newborn baby. But despite all that he has been tireless and pretty successful as I’d say. That is nothing you do easily, it’s about hours and hours of negotiations under extreme pressure because he just had to be successful. There must be quite an amount of passion in this tall Dutchman.

To end with a personal note: I do not agree with every single thing Victor did. Heck, I don’t have to. But I have the highest respect for him and I’m pretty comfortable with him as a chairman. I was in better times and I am now. He is a true fighter. I believe that he will do his share to get Saab through this and that he and Saab will succeed. Thanks for your efforts Victor and happy birthday.

60 thoughts on “Victor – my personal view on a tall dutchman”

  1. A true fighter, that he really is. Happy birthday Victor!

    It´s annoying and on the other hand hilarious, how so many people here have turned to negative during these difficult times. It seems that some, who had to turn to other brands turned their back to Saab and started spreading negativity towards Saab and VM.

    It´s really easy to say bad things about Saab now when things are as they are. But I love to hear what all naysayers have in mind when the next gen 9-3 rolls off the production line.

    I believe VM and Saab can make it there. The only problem for me is that I have to try to decide if we´ll get 9-5 SC or the next gen 9-3 😀

    Like I´ve said serveral times here: there´s just too much good things to throw away: 9-3 Griffin, eXWD, iQon, new 9-5 / 9-5 SC, 9-4X next 9-3, eAAM, new 1.6T engine, 9-1, 9-6 and 9-7 and the list goes on.

    Great future is just behind the door which is about to open very soon! Go Saab!!

  2. a perfect image of my opinion about everything around vm and saab.
    thank you very much for that.
    and i also wish victor muller all the best to his birthday and probably more time with his family – they also need him.
    this is the difference of saabsunited to the dumb press writers or, much worse, the well known “specialists”

  3. A very good writeup,Till 72! The figthing spirit VM has is admirable. I hope that the SAAB business will come to an happy ending.Otherwise —
    Ingvar

  4. Victor has done a good job as a stand in CEO at Saab. Who will replace him when things settle down?

    Carl-Peter Forster who was one of Saab’s (few?) friends in the GM Europe hierarchy, has just resigned from Tata. Perhaps he would make a good candidate for the job at Saab?

      • He was Chairman of Saab as part of his position at GM. He just stepped down from Tata due to “unavoidable personal circumstances”. Perhaps a smaller car company would make a nice change and be more convenient for him?. Although Saab will be a challenge for anyone who takes the job as CEO.

  5. A birthday and a critical situation like the one for Saab are not the right point in time to make an overall assessment. It would not just be negative btw. There are some positive points. Long management experience tells me that most of the bloggers here are naive and do not have the slightest clue, how succesful crisis management works. A six months liquidity crisis is not a sign of skilled leadership.

    • but if he suceeds when most commentators have written off Saab who can question his business acumen? He is also eloquent, tenacious, caring and honourable ( keeping all the staff on the books when most companies would have laid them off and also not looking to write off debts to suppliers). If he pulls this off he should win every business award out there.

    • michaelb: your managerial experience, that may just be the point where you err, Michael. You may have a lot of management experience but your words lead me to believe that you don’t/didn’t own the entity/entities where you gained that experience. I also have that experience but I gained it by running my own business. Not, by a long shot, in the same league as Victor Muller but I do know what feelings of passion and responsibility the ownership of a business with personnel generates.

      I don’t prove that passion and responsibility in your comments here. To me, you seem to be solely driven by the bottom line. Now that is, of couse, an excellent attitude for a manager but it definitely is not (only) for a good owner. As an owner/manager you are the engine that makes the business run. As a manager, however high-up, you are a cog in the machinery. A big one perhaps but still a cog that is driven by the engine. That’s why, in my opinion, your judgement of Victor Muller is utterly wrong.

      Ivo

    • What about six months crisis. It isn’t crisis of Victor Muller. It has been manufactured many months years ago. He fights to save Saab from the beginning. What do you do better at its place? Maybe the same (to fight) and or you would you go into bankruptcy. What he is doing it would not do the man who would be interested in money and profits only. We call it: “higher principle”. It’s easy to give up but he doesn’t do it.

  6. + 900 🙂
    Happy Birthday Victor!
    I believe that You get our beloved SAAB to next level, because You are true fighter and Your name means Winner!

  7. Interesting musings. Well said. And it’s certainly been a roller coaster ride for all of us who love our Saab cars. Happy birthday, indeed! And let’s hope that Saab is re-born again with many more birthdays to come. No company deserves it more. We will all hang in there until it happens.

  8. Just a comment on “tall dutchman”

    His mother must have given him loads of milk when he was younger….have you ever seen a short dutchman?

    They’re all tall…

    but not as charismatic as our VICTOR

  9. Check the economy situation, all the companies that have difficulties or any company that had any difficulty or bad moments in its history and how much of them accomplished te amount of support to the owner, CEO, Borad management, included it’s own employees?(remember JAJ when arrived from Detroit at the Factory and how was received). This is unique!!! and that’s something it only could happen to SAAB, no other company.

    It seem that many people wants its dead, but those must fight against a bunch of passionate people that want to continue with it job of doing and enjoying great machines!!!

    Happy birthday Victor, and good good luck!!

    Regards

  10. gelukkige verjaardag H Muller!!!!!!
    happy birthday,ouwe rakker!!!!!! vanuit Belgie.
    have today very good news from beherman belgium,my convertible griffin is delyvery in januari 2012!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Very well said Till, I can’t think of anyone who has worked as hard for anything in there lives. Victor is in a league of his own when it comes to his work ethic. I find it very frustrating when people question what he did in his spare time or that he even has spare time. Who are we to judge anyone and really, do any of us work remotely as hard as he does? I think not. Happy birthday to the hardest working man.

  12. “For the tenacious, no road is impassable.” As apt for Saab is it is for Spyker. Maybe the whole Saab adventure is naive and foolish, but then so was sledging to the north and south poles, climbing Everest and launching men at the moon. Last time I checked, VM had not gone all Richard Branson on us and proposed to top any of these achievements, but there’s time yet and I suspect he would given half the chance. In our own small way, I think so many of us Saab nuts are excited by VM because he really represents the spirit of Saab. In my own tiny corner of the world, this saga is crystallised by the events of 6 December last year, when my 9-3 sports diesel got me and two passengers, and a lot of luggage, from one end of a well-known Scottish motorway to the other in one of the worst snowstorms in this country’s history – and that’s saying something. From the midway point to the destination more than 15 miles further on, there was nothing in front of me but deep pristine snow and some scary gradients. I had a convoy of two vehicles behind me, a van and a 4×4, following several hours of weaving around broken-down trucks, politely pushing flailing rwd saloons to the verge, and stopping to check on an elderly couple stranded in their vehicle. Being fortunate enough to have learned some rudiments of driving in snow helped, and sure there was a bit of luck involved, but it was at that moment that I went from being merely a Saab fanatic to being an utter Saab zealot. And on the scale of things to be zealous and fanatical about – religion / football / guns / organising your socks and pants using a spreadsheet – I would say that this is at the healthy and positive end. Down with negativity! 🙂

  13. Happy Birthday Victor. Thank you for not giving up. Hopefully one day we will look back on this from behind the steering wheels of our next generation of Saab cars and celebrate. Happy Birthday

  14. I have expressed my opinion on Mr Mueller many times in the past and see no need to repeat again. Have not met Mr Mueller personally yet and would love to do so one day as he is a true businessman and a true entrepreneur. I deal with many multinationals across various verticals in manufacturing and have seen how many such entities either go in to obscurity or transform themselves and excel by having an internal “champion” with a vision, the belief and ability to execute change. No need to look further than Apple in recent years and how S Jobs transformed this entity. What we have in front of us and inside Saab is the true Champion that is indeed putting his whole life and reputation on the line. Without him Saab would have already died in obscurity. Mr Mueller is a true champion and I hope he succeeds….and will meet him once too !!!

  15. Engage invulnerable mode.
    It’s been quite a voyage being with Saab during the last years. I cleaned my room the other day and found an issue of Swedish auto motor & sport from 18th of September 2005. The headline on the front page was “The game around Saab, all the secrets from the inside”. This put me in some kind of perspective becuase I have forgot that Saabs existtance was questioned at that time.Saab has won over hardships through not only by technical but also by unconventional business solutions. When sales of the two-stroke Saabs plummeted in mid 60’s they suddenly came up with a Ford deal and succesfully launched their V4 engines in the 95/96. A decade later the Turbo thing happend. And with all respect, when GM entered the scene another decade later it was as surprising as it was extremely positive news The last two years have been a constant cliff-hanger experience even for people not involved in Saab. Personally I have hard times to take more of it, it’s a bit like a video game where threats and marsians are coming in from everywhere all the time. I had to press the buttonto engage the invulnaribility shield. It’s on the centre console andit reads “VM”

    Thanks Victor for your never-ending efforts,
    (and remember:the alphabet doesn’t end with B, C or D)

  16. On Victor Muller,

    What counts first for me is that Victor Muller is a true car fanatic, and in that way has all the best intentions for Saab I can imagine. He is the perfect man to inspire and lead the way.
    His choice for Jason Castriotta for intance was non-confentional but outstanding, he knows the money bussiness and never gives up.
    But he is a friend of Mr. Antonov, and for some unclear reason(s) this man is not accepted
    as an investor by Sweden and in accordance the EIB. (yes I know the suspicions).
    I think we may conclude that Sweden rather lets Saab go bankrupt than sell it to the Russians or Chinese. Sweden doesn’t mind the 10.000 unemployed and the costs of that.
    They only argument is: “This is a company that never made any profit”.
    Instead of putting all the effort in making it profitable again they chose the easy way,
    wich in fact is very arrogant as well.
    There is not only the resposbility for the employees, but for the worldwide customer base
    and the general image of Sweden, as well.
    I’m beginnig to suspect a hidden agenda. wich off course will come out in the end.
    As a dutchman a would like to emphasize that we still have an open wound amoung the population with the dissappearance of the Fokker aircraft company by Mr. Jürgen Schremp
    (this is my love baby) of Daimler Benz. This would have been a very profitable company today.
    So when Saab is gone there is no way back and you will forever regret it.

    • You are right!
      Nowdays we have “beencounters” in the political field. It seems now that they start to act a little, hopefully not too late,I thinking about the fact that the swedish ambassador in China yesterday, had a contact with
      NDRC.

      • The problem with “beancounters” is of course that they have to little imagination.
        For instance, they cannot imagine what huge kind of bad publicity this is for Sweden in general.
        For me Sweden was always the country of the clever people with an nice informal,
        but thorough attitude. First you do things right and then you watch your waist.
        Now it is becoming the country with the easy-going people who don’t give a damn
        about what other people consider their core virtues.
        In other countries Saab is Sweden, much more than Volvo.
        It is small, it is clever, it has state of the art engineering, it has a no nonsens attide towards excessive luxury.
        All this will be replaced by a dogmatic uncompromising and disinterested country, not worth the loyalty.
        I dont’t think I’m only speaking for myself and that means, this of course will also have
        repercussions for the image of many other Swedish entreprises.
        To your government I would like to say Saab is a matter of national interest, and it is absolute a mistake not to recognise that.

        • “To your government I would like to say Saab is a matter of national interest, and it is absolute a mistake not to recognise that.”
          I fully agree!

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