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Sak speaks out

Short-lived: Sak Ryopponen was FPV MD for just seven months.

Former FPV boss Sak Ryopponen talks for the first time since ‘The Dismissal’

15 Aug 2007

FORMER Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) managing director Sak Ryopponen has spoken publicly for the first time since he and eight other senior management staff were sacked without notice last January.

The sudden move by Prodrive, which owns 51 per cent of FPV in a joint venture with Ford Australia, is understood to have been motivated by a desire to shed significant costs in its Australian operation. Such cost cutting had already seen about a quarter of FPV positions – believed to be around 35 jobs – terminated in 2006.

Mr Ryopponen was hired just prior to the first round of job cuts, taking office on June 6, 2006, as the successor to David Flint – who was retiring after almost 15 years as managing director of FPV/Tickford. Mr Ryopponen was to hold the FPV MD position for only seven months.

In an exclusive interview with GoAuto, Mr Ryopponen said he hoped the money that FPV saved by carrying out the cull was being put to good use.

“I assume that Prodrive has been able to realise the cost savings that they were able to achieve as a result of the cost-cutting exercise at the end of January,” Mr Ryopponen said.

He said that the sackings had been carried out to simply cut costs, rather than Prodrive having any issues with the management team.

“We actually achieved a lot during my time at FPV, including the development of new model programs, special editions, some of which have been seen and others that will come out in the foreseeable future,” Mr Ryopponen said.

“I am very happy with what we achieved. I am sad about some of the cost cuttings that I had to institute when I was there, staff cuts that I actually had to implement when I was there.” The former Saab Australia managing director would not comment on specific details of the controversial senior management sackings at FPV, but said he hoped his sudden dismissal by Prodrive would not negatively affect his chances of securing a similar role in the future.

“I’m not in a position to answer whether what happened in January impacted on my ability to do something else in the industry. I haven’t tested that yet,” he said.

Currently working with several Australian automotive service companies in a consulting capacity on a range of projects, some of which are reaching completion, Mr Ryopponen, 54, told GoAuto he would like another chance to head an automotive brand and said he had at least 10 years left in him.

He also said he had been given a lot of support by colleagues in the automotive industry since the sacking.

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“The overwhelming reaction that I have had from people I have talked to subsequent to January, their reaction has been, ‘You poor sod’,” he said. “I haven’t personally encountered any other reaction than, ‘Oh, what an awful thing that has been done.”

Among those dismissed with Mr Ryopponen were FPV product planner Mark Behr, sales and marketing manager Roger Gray and corporate communications manager Steve Colquhoun.

Mr Behr is now working as a manager in the automotive insurance industry, Mr Gray is working with a web design company and Mr Colquhoun is working as a freelance journalist/PR consultant.

The group was sacked just days after FPV announced its best year of sales, having shifted 2144 cars in 2006.

While Ford Australia owns 49 per cent of the FPV joint venture, it is understood that Prodrive took the lead on this issue and informed senior Ford Australia management of the decision less than 48 hours before the dismissals were carried out.

Industry sources suggest the Prodrive cuts, and particularly the way they were carried out, strained relations between Prodrive and Ford Australia.

However, Ford Australia president Tom Gorman last week denied there had been any such rift when asked by GoAuto whether the two parties had since “mended their fences”.

“The fence was never broken – I don’t think that is a fair assessment,” Mr Gorman said. “Our relationship with FPV has always been very good.”

Having said that, Mr Gorman did imply there was certainly a difference of opinion at the time.

“I’m proud of the way the way the team acted aggressively and quickly, but we might have done it differently if it was a Ford-only operation,” he said.

“We are very pleased with the way they are going, even though we went through that period, it was never a relationship issue, it was one thing that happened that I said we might have done differently, but it happened and they made it and they moved on. They too are running a profitable business as are we.”

Mr Gorman said Ford Australia had a great relationship with Prodrive Asia-Pacific managing director Bryan Mears and now has an opportunity to work with newly appointed FPV general manager Rod Barrett, who has been transferred from the FPV V8 Supercar race team, FPR.

“Rod is a very strong leader,” Mr Gorman said.

He added that Ford Australia was pleased with the way FPV was heading.

“The product integration is much stronger than it was. I’m not saying it is because we changed management, but I can tell you it is stronger today and that is critically important as we move forward,” he said.

“There are good things that are happening behind the curtain that you don’t see. They are very active on the product and they have a clear view of what they want to do.”

Mr Ryopponen started his automotive career with Ford Australia in 1975 within the Ford Truck marketing operation. He has held senior positions with Nissan and BMW in Australia, and was the founding managing director of Carsales.com.au Limited.

At the time of his appointment, Prodrive chief operating officer Clive Scrivener said in a statement: “Sak will be an excellent addition to our team and brings a wealth of experience and skills to complement our business. I am positive he will play an integral role in our future success.”

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