Joel Manby was one of the 8 guys who kicked off Saturn back in the 1980s, with a finely honed focus on the customer being more important than everything else – even the cars they were selling.
In the mid-late 1990s, he was slotted in as the head of SaabUSA, staying there for four years. He’s now working as the CEO of a company dealing with entertainment parks called Herschend Family Entertainment.
Manby did an interview recently with Georgia Public Broadcasting. The interview was mainly concerned with his current role at Herschend, but in discussing the corporate culture there, he also touched on his past experiences at GM in general, and Saturn and Saab in particular.
The full interview is available in PDF form here or you can watch it on video here.
I’ve reproduced the Saab and GM bits below:
“…what I saw at General Motors which was not very good. It was chaos. It wasn’t very well led. And at General Motors it was only about the bottom line. It was only about money and, you know, at the end of the day, I don’t think great people are really attracted to that…”
“…when I was in the GM culture, a lot of the discussion was about cutting costs and labor issues, union issues, and not enough about what’s going on with that customer.”
“…with Saab, we had a fantastic car, but we had no marketing strategy and no dealer network.”
“On Saab, the biggest thing I learned is how difficult it is to change a culture that is not customer focused and in Saab’s case, it was an engineering driven company. When you’d be in the meetings, it’d be all about having the absolute, best car, which actually, you can go too far, because you can put things into the car that customers aren’t willing to pay for. The engineers want it, but you’re not willing to pay for it as a customer,and that’s what I walked away with [from] Saab. You’ve got to only put in things that the customer is willing to reward you for…”
“At Saturn and Saab I saw a lot of mistakes there where, frankly, it became poor leadership. It really comes down to strong leadership and at Herschend, the owners just permeate the values.”
This guy is incredibly customer-focused and running a car company has to be about the product first and foremost, but some care and attention on the customer side is going to be crucial as Saab emerge from GM’s shadow.
Under Koenigsegg, Saab will have a chance to rebuild their identity under the flag of an exotic and very Swedish ownership identity. The customer experience will hopefully be developed to reflect this.
This has been an interesting insight from a guy was, at one time, right there at the coal face.
My thanks to Alan H for the tip and quotes!