January 26, 2010 / 7:17 PM / 9 years ago

Persistence pays off for Spyker's CEO Victor Muller

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Etched on the emblem of Dutch supercar maker Spyker Cars is the motto “nulla tenaci invia est via,” or “for the tenacious, no road is impassable,” words that have driven Chief Executive Victor Muller for the past few months.

Muller, 50, clinched a deal against expectations on Tuesday to buy Swedish automaker Saab from General Motors in a deal worth $400 million, to merge a niche maker of 200,000 euro ($282,000) two-seaters with a Swedish brand known for its staid yet distinctly styled sedans and hatchbacks.

Compared to escape artist Harry Houdini by the Dutch media for his ability to slip out of tight spots, the classic car fanatic’s latest venture will test his ability to navigate difficult terrain.

Muller, a former mergers and acquisitions lawyer, is betting that Spyker, which made fewer than four dozen cars last year, will be able to inject new life — and profit — into Saab, which has lost money every year since 2001 and sold more than 93,000 cars in 2008.

Spyker was a defunct brand until 2000, when Muller revamped it together with car designer Maarten de Bruijn, restoring the glory of a family firm that once built a coach for the Dutch royal family, but which was liquidated in 1926.

De Bruijn left the company in 2005 after a disagreement with Muller over the strategy of the company.

Muller has rescued the company from going under several times in its recent history, managing to draw in investors at the last minute to keep it a going concern.

Muller brought in Abu Dhabi’s sovereign fund Mubadala as a 23 percent owner, as well as Russian banking tycoon Vladimir Antonov, who holds 29.9 percent.

Dutch media mogul John de Mol as well as billionaire Marcel Boekhoorn, who made his fortune with a bakery retail chain and the sale of Telfort to KPN, are also significant investors in Spyker Cars.

In 2006 Muller also convinced the Dutch Mol family to participate in Spyker’s purchase of the Midland Formula 1 Racing team, fulfilling a lifelong ambition.

But the Formula 1 venture ended a little more than a year later.

Muller is also battling Dutch market supervisor AFM, which last year fined him 96,000 euros for leaking price sensitive information about Spyker.

Muller made his fortune with the sale of shares in Dutch fashion brand McGregor, the company he managed and listed on the Amsterdam stock exchange.

He still wears the brand, known for golf and sailing clothing, and which now features a Spyker Cars line.

A fanatic collector of classic cars, Muller told Dutch magazine Quote recently he had sold his purple C8 Spyker Spyder, chassis number 007, and was now building a dark grey C8 Spyder.

“I was approached by someone who said: ‘I want to buy your car’,” Muller was quoted as saying. “It’s ok, I will build myself a new one.”

(Reporting by Harro ten Wolde; Editing by Louise Heavens)

$1=.7097 Euro

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