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.