An executive from General Motors took clear-cut control of Saab Cars USA Inc. last week after Saab veteran Bill Kelly quit as president and chief executive officer.
Less than two months after becoming regional director of the Americas, James Crumlish, will now have day-to-day control of the U.S. sales arm. And though he has spent nearly 28 years with GM, he said he's not out to 'GM-ize' Saab.
Crumlish said he's a loyal Saab guy after spending four challenging years as chief financial officer of parent company Saab Automobile AB, a 50: 50 joint venture between GM and Saab-Scania AB. Crumlish got the finance job when Saab Automobile was formed in 1990.
Kelly, 45, says he had been asked to stay, and Crumlish confirmed it. Neither man said so, but Kelly wouldn't be the first executive who decided there wasn't room at the top for two bosses.
'It was very painful for me personally to make this decision. I've spent half my working life at Saab,' Kelly said. He said he wants to stay in the luxury car business, maybe wholesale, or maybe retail.
Crumlish, 49, arrived at headquarters in Norcross, Ga. in early February to oversee Canada, South America - and Kelly's U.S. operation.
'This was my choice, to come to Saab Cars USA. If you look at the organizations, I have taken a step down. I want to stay at Saab. ... If it were my choice, I would like to retire from the Saab organization,' he said.
With Crumlish as chief financial officer, Saab cut its Swedish operation to the bone, consolidated nearly all production into one plant and cut thousands of jobs.
Saab and Opel, GM's German subsidiary, combined sales networks in Sweden - a move Crumlish said won't happen here. GM provided a V-6 and more than 25 percent of the content for the all-new Saab 900 launched in America last November. And future Saabs will probably share Opel platforms.
Still, Saab is jealous of its independence. Crumlish pointed out there are fewer than 10 GM executives at Saab, and vice versa.
Crumlish said Saab wants to improve sales in Canada and establish a serious presence in South America. He said he asked for the job of 'regional director -*Americas' because he spent three years each in Canada and South America for GM, and he thought the job was a good fit.
'I figured I would spend my time as regional director, which is only one person, about 40 percent on the U.S., 30 percent on Canada and 30 percent on South America. I looked to Bill (Kelly) to continue to carry the burden for the United States,' he said.
Saab announced Crumlish's move to America in November just as Kelly was launching the new 900, the most important launch in Saab history. At the time, Kelly said he would stay.
Last week, Kelly said he had been thinking about leaving for about six months - about the time of the Crumlish announcement. 'We leave on the best of terms. I support GM, and of course I support Saab-Scania AB,' he said.
Kelly ends his Saab career where it began. He joined Saab's southern regional office in another Atlanta suburb in 1980. He was named national sales manager in 1988, afer a two-year stint at Peugeot Motors of America Inc.
Saab was on the ropes when Kelly came back. Like other European importers, Saab had assumed sales would keep growing like they had from 1980 to 1986. Saab sales went from 13,558 in 1980 to a record 48,181 in 1986. By 1990, sales had fallen to 26,397, and Saab was unprepared.
Kelly performed radical surgery. He fired the entire U.S. headquarters except for 20 people, and started nearly from scratch with those 20 and 100 new hires. He moved the headquarters from Connecticut, the heart of Saab's strongest market, to the Atlanta suburbs, Saab's weakest market.
Now that the 900 has been launched, Kelly said he feels like the heavy lifting has been done.
Sales for 1994 were up 9.4 percent through February. The 900 model was up 32.3 percent, but the older 9000 was off 22.7 percent.
'We are not going to have the meteoric rise we had in the mid-'80s,' Kelly said. 'But I'm leaving at a time when the organization is in the best shape it's been in in years.'