Adrian Hallmark, the former high flying head of VW brand operations in North America and Asia Pacific, is relishing the challenge of rebuilding Saab’s battered image under its Dutch Spyker Cars control, despite admitting: “you may well ask why on earth I took this job on?”
Hallmark, 47, the campaign veteran of Bentley’s global and Porsche’s UK turnarounds, claims that running VW Group’s Asia Pacific organisation with 1.3m annual sales is less involving and “tangible” than his new quest.
He says: “The more you progress through a big organisation and the greater the responsibility you get the less you feel things. I felt less involved with over one million Asian sales than pushing Bentley up from 1,000 to 10,000 units. It’s the same with Saab.”
The Briton offers the analogy of “new pairs of shoes normally hurting for a while” but adds: “After my first month at Saab it felt like a natural fit, which was a bit scary.”
Headhunted by Saab’s newly independent management, Hallmark described his global role as providing the opportunity to “get down and dirty in a big difficult job which is full of personal risks, but irresistible.”
“Previous under-utilisation of Saab’s brand potential” provides his main inspiration with three new models due over the next 13 months, covering the new 9-5 saloon and wagon plus the long overdue 9-4X SUV crossover, being built alongside Cadillac’s new SRX in GM’s Mexican plant.
Hallmark’s philosophy involves: “being able to shape things and get my hands into them. I am not a typical corporate pedlar, nor am I comfortable in big bureaucratic political environments.”
Having taken part in a whistle stop management tour of European and USA outposts, with particular emphasis on rallying morale among dealers, Hallmark maintained that a “disarmingly open and brutally honest series of presentations of our plans erased 90% of understandable cynicism and angst among retailers. It was not as dark and screwed up as you might have anticipated.”
His experience as VW’s executive vice president in North America, a lynchpin market for Saab and particularly the 9-4X, was arguably instrumental in Saab and Spyker seeking him out.
The core aim is to pull Saab’s sales up to 120,000 worldwide annual units, equivalent to the 2007 pre-crisis level, which he describes as being “ridiculous in the context of how ancient some of our models were. With Saabs, which are true Saabs again, we have a serious credible future.
“Understand where and why Audi and Saab migrated to their respective areas and you realise that we can and will build individualistic, high performance cars again. That means taking our own route and not mimicking the Germans.”
His understanding of brand values and market niches was demonstrating by identifying the GBP100,000 to GBP200,000 luxury middle ground vacuum filled by Bentley, which Hallmark described as being: “a basket case with no money, no people and no competitive products, when I landed there in 1999.”
A former colleague describes Hallmark as “generating infectious enthusiasm through a collegiate approach. But he knows when and how hard to hammer the table when applying his ultimate authority. This is not mission impossible for Adrian and he is thankful that GM has not totally destroyed Saab’s credibility and heritage. He understands the value of loyal but battered dealers.”