Saab is today a leader in the development of some of the world’s most advanced technology for signature management. Located in Gamleby; a small town of some 3,000 inhabitants on the southeast coast of Sweden, the company has grown with a dedicated group of employees who have contributed to the success of its products. In many ways Tony Read and Lukas Nilsson, two Saab employees, embody the history and spirit of the company.
One has more than four decades under his belt at the company, while the other is a rookie by comparison, having worked at Saab for 9 years. Both share their dedication to the company and to their colleagues, and both have a profound sense of pride in the work they do producing world class products for their customers.
When Tony Read came to Saab 44 years ago from London for an internship, he hadn’t planned on staying long in Sweden or at the company.
“I thought this would just be an interesting experience, and that I would spend some time here In Gamleby and return to England,” Read reminisces.
But when the internship was over, Saab let Read know that they were hiring full time employees and there was a spot for him if he wanted it.
“I enjoyed what I was doing, and the people I worked with were good people. It was an easy decision to stay,” he says.
Fast forward to 2020 and a number of the people that Read works with have been at the company nearly as long as he has. “Some of my colleagues have worked here for more than 30 years.”
The road to working at Saab was not as long for Nilsson. He was born not far from Gamleby, and had met many people who work for the company.
“Many people had said that Saab was a great employer and that people enjoyed working here. I have to say that everything they told me was the truth. On Sunday night I am looking forward to heading to work on Monday. I can’t wait to get back to the job and to my colleagues,” Nilsson explains.
Read and Nilsson have formed a close relationship, as group leader and supervisor respectively, that is characterised by mutual respect, common goals, and lots of humour while working to tight deadlines, meeting customer expectations and delivering on business goals.
For an outsider meeting this duo for the first time, it’s hard not to think of Batman and Robin, or other dynamic duos that work together. There is a warmth in their interaction that comes from spending time getting to know each other, and from working closely as a team.
Saab Barracuda spirit
Walking through the production facility with the two of them, it’s not hard to see how much they are appreciated by their colleagues, as they stop to greet co-workers every few steps, exchanging pleasantries and observing work in progress; special orders destined for military customers from all corners of the world.
"We are a loyal and tight knit group," Nilsson explains. "The company takes care of us, and we have the ability to have a balance between work life and family life. That makes all the difference to us. Also, we have a lot of freedom and responsibility," he continues.
Cutting-edge products and global reputation
A catalogue of cutting-edge, innovative products and more than six decades of experience have earned Saab a global reputation for their unique camouflage systems which can conceal everything from soldiers, vehicles and tanks to large ships in the ultraviolet, visual, near infrared, shortwave infrared, thermal infrared and radar ranges. In addition, more than 60 percent of the world market purchases products from the company, which is the market leader of advanced camouflage.
Although at first glance one might think that the production of camouflage nets and other signature management products is low tech because much of the production involves sewing machines and scissors, Read and Nilsson explain that it is actually a high tech industry.
“Not only are the materials used to produce the systems some of the most advanced available anywhere today, they can block radio signals and thermal sensor threats. They are also designed to keep things cool, or warm, depending on the needs of our customers,” Nilsson says.
The two refer to their work as a blend of technology and handicraft and explain that as the generational shift in the workforce is underway, with many employees nearing retirement age, they will have new challenges to contend with to ensure that the next crop of Saab employees are up to the task.
An important part of the work is going to visit customers to show them how to mount the systems on their vehicles.
“Everything becomes clearer when you are onsite and show the customer how the products should fit on their vehicles. It’s a great way to train the new team members. Suddenly they understand why a flap they have sewn on a system is placed exactly where it is, when they see the handle that is underneath it,” Read explains.
Saab’s Mobile Camouflage Systems ( MCS) are designed to provide customers with the solutions that are right for their specifications. All the systems produced at Saab Barracuda are made for specific vehicles, and must be customised for an exact fit. In addition, every vehicle is unique.
“The customisation requires quite a bit of skill from everyone working here,” says Read. “Some of the jobs here require a number of years just to learn the advanced skills necessary to produce the systems,” he adds.
In the early days, Read remembers how labour intensive the production process was.
“I’ve had all types of positions here since I started, and in the beginning many of the things that we did here were done by hand. My first four years here everything was cut with scissors”, Read explains.
Today, automated cutting machines have taken over much of the work, although many things must still be done by hand.
For Nilsson in his role, having Tony close at hand to consult with has made all the difference in designing workflows and processes.
“Tony is a great support for me. We have had the same job, and he has a relationship with every staff member so I can ask him for feedback on staffing and other questions that come up,” Nilsson adds.
After 44 years at work, Read is starting to plan for his life outside of Saab, but Nilsson and the rest of the team have a hard time imagining how their days will be without him.
“Tony keeps teasing us and saying that he is going to stop working and retire soon, but I really hope he stays here longer. He is such an important part of our team,” Nilsson says.