The David-and-Goliath transaction of Spyker buying Saab now has its sequel. Victor Muller is buying Saab’s three overseas sales companies – one of which is Saab GB. The seller is GM, writes Rob Golding.
Several dozen people within GM at Luton have had to decide whether they would stay with the big, fat, subsidised American company or go with the Dutch mergers and acquisitions specialist who has a tiny little sports car company and an extraordinary ambition.
Jonathan Nash, 51, UK managing director of the Saab sales company for more than ten years, has made his decision which might be described as jumping out of the fire and into the frying pan. He concedes that many of his pals have told him he is nuts.
He has just about finished his search for a new HQ (probably Milton Keynes) and is deep into hiring mode. It’s not that his staff won’t come with him; most will. The problem is that many of his support staff also supply services to other GM brands (Cadillac, Corvette, Hummer, Chevrolet, Vauxhall) and they ain’t going anywhere.
“I kind of owe it to Saab. I am very emotionally attached. There are some other old Saabies moving and a number of GM people who were seconded to Saab. We have about 50% of our capability,” says Nash.
GM owns three Saab sales companies in its three largest markets of US, UK and Sweden. Various arrangements arise in the other 56 markets of the world. Spyker has to buy the three biggies.
The transition to Muller ownership will be complete in August. For the next couple of months there will be this creepy interim stage of working under big company procedures but answering to instructions from an altogether more agile and entrepreneurial leadership.
Nash has seen some of the future and for him it works. A picture of a small car called the 9-1 exists as a photograph on Muller’s mobile phone (Cool Bear, J-A passim) and he knows the whole renewal plan for the current line-up.
The confidence that Nash has in risking his career and pension arises from the personality of the Saab buyers. “During the crisis over Saab’s long-term ownership, the owners’ clubs were almost as vocal as the politicians. As Muller says, all we have to do is to re-establish the passion and get our customers back and we have a business.”
He’s a canny opportunist, is Muller. He watched with interest as the on-off flirtations with Koenigsegg and Chinese buyers wobbled their course, then as Koenigsegg bottled out on the purchase of Saab he texted Bob Lutz who responded in minutes. Muller seized on the due diligence that had already been paid for by others and captured himself a Goliath on the cheap.
He was the right man in the right place at the right time. As an M&A specialist by trade he could see a decent set of due diligence papers when he read one. He could also see that the entire model renewal programme at Saab had been paid for by GM and there would be no huge and immediate engineering bill to meet. The new Saab 9-5 – bigger than, and intended as a competitor for, the BMW 5 Series – arrives in market next month. A 9-4X comes next year and is a Saabed Cadillac SRX.
For Jonathan Nash, there have been some very scary moments. But, he reflects, the scary bits are all in the past. He looks at the business plan and for him, the future works.