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SAAB – Now What?

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By Brendan Moore

As you may have read, Saab’s slow death rattle was halted last Friday. Two small Chinese firms, Pang Da and Youngman, offered again to purchase Saab from the floundering Swedish Automobile, a company born from the ashes of the GM abandonment, Spyker’s purchase of Saab, and then, the subsequent divesture of the Spyker supercar part of the business. 

The time, Swedish Automobile said yes to the acquisition, staving off what would have been certain liquidation of Saab. So, it now looks like Pang Da Automobile Trade Co. and Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co. will probably be the proud new owners of Saab, and all for the laughably low price of $142 million USD. 

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Saab Turnaround 2011 – The Struggle and the Pain

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In February, I wrote a piece titled “Can Saab Be Turned Around?” in which I pondered the chances of Saab being able to do a herculean amount of work with what little they had to work with, and, in the process, turn themselves around. 

Since that time, Saab has plunged into a financial abyss, been forced to shut down production, and taken on one Chinese investment partner (Hawtie), and then been forced to abandon that deal within two weeks because the Chinese company could not get the required permissions from the Chinese government to do the deal, and then, take on another Chinese business partner (Pangda). 

What bought on the aforementioned sudden fall, you might ask? 

To put it succinctly, the CEO’s rash actions. Saab had been paying all of their suppliers late for months, trying to conserve their cash flow, more or less “stealing from Peter to pay Paul”, which in this instance meant they were trying to put more money into sales, marketing, research and development; the first two things they desperately need to do to get more cash now (by selling some cars), and from the development perspective, they need to get the next generation of the 9-3 moving along, which is their volume model, and which needs an update. 

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Experience and the Turnaround

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While at a business conference earlier this year, a fellow I had just met mentioned to me in an offhand way that they (his business unit) had just hired a young guy out of a prestigious business school program to “fix” their business, which has been on the decline for the past three years. They hired this guy as a permanent employee, and the CEO had great hopes that he would bring the company back into the black by the end of this year, using the latest business strategies. He reports directly to the CEO, not the head of the business unit.

After all, he did have a perfect GPA at the B-School he attended.

I hope that works out for them, but I did give him my business card. “Just in the instance that the task turns out to be a little bigger than you thought”, I said.

Now for some business-style preaching:

When managing a business turnaround, there is a great deal of reliance on data, on forecasts, on costs, on efficiency, on quality, etc. And many of the things you do to fix the company are the things taught in most business schools and/or internal management training programs at large corporations.

So, any young over-achiever right out of business school with the most up-to-date academic knowledge can probably fix what’s ailing your business and get it turned around pretty quick, right?

I’m waiting…

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