Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Breaking and Entering at Saab Headquarters

I am a member of the Saab Cars North America Aftersales Vision Team, which is a group of service managers, general mangers, dealers and SCNA employees who meets once a month on a teleconference to exchange ideas and concerns regarding Saab service and parts. At our November meeting, it was decided that we would have an in-person meeting in January in Detroit. I just got through contacting Gary Dagesse, who is in charge of the group, asking him to try to move the location of the meeting from the Westin hotel at the airport to the SCNA headquarters in Royal Oak. I want to see the Mother Ship!

I had been to the Saab Cars USA (as it was then known) headquarters in Norcross, Georgia a few times. The last time was as part of the same Vision Team in 2001. In those days, many of the meetings were held in person, and only a few by phone (teleconferences weren’t quite as easy then) and this worked well until 9/11, when non-essential travel everywhere came to a stop.

The most fun I ever had at the Norcross location was my first visit there. In the mid-1990’s Saab initiated a program called “Saab Way.” The first year was the most intense. Every manager and service advisor was required to attend, and the session was four or five days long (in later years the program was truncated). Beyond indoctrination into the pillars of the brand and its history, there was a lot of time spent on team building. Anyone out there remember the “trust fall?” Saab Way was presented in the Saab training facility not far from the corporate office. However, we were never invited to see the Mother Ship, and our hotel was some distance away and we were carted from hotel to training facility in a shuttle bus.

The second year, I attended with Einar Fjeldallen, a former technician at Charles River Saab who was the newly appointed Service Manager at our Framingham Saab location (later to become Saab City Framingham, which closed in 2007). We both felt that we wanted to take the opportunity to see the corporate offices. While the Saab Way schedule was tight during the day, once 5:00 came we were on our own. That year we had rented a car, so we drove ourselves to the International Way to find Saab Cars USA (SCUSA, to insiders). When we arrived, the front door was locked and there was no receptionist, but we could see lights on in the building. We wandered to the back and found a loading dock door open and went inside. There we found a very nicely appointed repair facility, and we could see three gentlemen hovering over a convertible. We then found our way into the offices where we were greeted by those working the phones in the Customer Assistance Center—it was still business hours on the west coast. They were very cordial and showed us around the place. We were both taken at how small it was!

Einar and I went back to the shop and introduced ourselves to the men looking at the convertible. They were engineers from Sweden. Rather young, and looking perturbed; not by our presence, but at trouble they were having with the car. Einar chimed in, with his heavy Norwegian accented English.
“Do you need some help?”
“How to remove DICE (dashboard integrated central electronic module)?” one of the engineers responded with a very thick Swedish accent.
“Give me the screw driver,” Einar responded, not wanting to give them any actual information.
Einar reached under the dash, a few quick turns, and DICE was in his hands. He handed it to the Swedes with a smile that reeked of disdain.

I know that Norwegians are not always fond of Swedes, and Einar had told me lots of stories about his time working for Saab as a field engineer in Norway, and I think he had had issues over the years with various engineering types from Trollhattan. He absolutely delighted in the belittling of these guys. Afterward, we all chatted and had a lovely time, and if memory serves me well I think they joined us at the hotel bar that night..

Hopefully, seeing the SCNA headquarters in Royal Oaks will not require such surreptitious maneuvers on my part this time around. If I am able get there, I will be reporting on my visit!
(photo courtesy of

1 comment:

Ryan E said...

Don't forget to cite for the photo from the SCUSA location in Norcross, GA