From his desk in suburban Atlanta, Joel Manby has a new task: Sell more Saabs in Asia and help improve the performance of Saab retailers around the world.
Three years ago, the former Saturn Corp. manager stepped in as CEO of Saab Cars USA Inc. This summer, he took on more global duties for the Swedish automaker.
Since late July, Manby has been responsible for Saab's Asia/Pacific markets - particularly Japan, Australia, Taiwan and Korea. In addition, Manby will oversee Saab's effort to upgrade its retail network and help dealers make more money.
This global role has all the markings of a reward. Saab is on track to sell 40,000 cars in the United States this year, compared with 28,000 in 1997. That means more profits for dealers. In 1997, the average Saab dealer sold just 57 cars. This year, due to Manby's restructuring of the dealer body, retailers will average 210 cars each.
But Manby hesitates to call the added assignment a reward.
'It's an effort to streamline management around the world,' says Manby, who will remain in Georgia as CEO of the U.S. unit. 'What you're seeing is Saab improving its direct reporting system.'
It also reveals General Motors' increasing interest in the Trollhattan, Sweden, manufacturer. GM owns half of Saab Automobile AB, and has an option to buy the remaining half ear-ly next year. GM veteran Robert Hendry is president of Saab in Sweden.
Boosting sales in the Pacific region will be a slow process, Manby admits. He anticipates flying into Japan and Australia perhaps three to four times a year, but local managers generally will run their own show.
'Those markets have big potential for Saab,' Manby declares. 'We're only selling about 2,000 cars a year in Japan. We could sell 10,000 there.'
Every little bit helps. Saab expects to make a profit this year, based on its forecast of selling about 135,000 cars worldwide this year. Two years ago, worldwide sales totaled 100,000 cars.
The job of improving the global retail and distribution system will take a little more effort, he admits. He envisions a monthly trip to Sweden to meet with managers to discuss dealer support, franchise strategy, retail and wholesale standards, used-car programs, international distribution and corporate fleet sales.
Manby hopes to create more dealer training programs and to persuade dealers around the globe to upgrade their facilities.
'We have some very good retailers and distributors around the world,' Manby says. 'But we don't always do well against the competition because it's difficult to get people exclusively selling Saab.
'In the U.S., we've had some success doing that by reducing the number of Saab dealers and helping them increase their average store sales,' Manby says.
Saab may reduce the size of its European dealer network, as it did in the United States two years ago. The U.S. network was quietly whittled down from 350 dealers at the end of 1997 to 180 today. And many current dealers are new to the franchise.
'We want to serve our dealers better,' Manby says. 'We've found in the past that dealers are spending their time dealing with basic block-and-tackle stuff that they shouldn't have to worry about, like tracking down cars that ought to be there. We'd like to make sure we're getting them the support they need so they can focus more on building sales.'