Robert J. Sinclair (1931-2009)

Posted on 11. May, 2009 by in Uncle Bob's Corner


Photo Credit: Saab History / Saab USA 60th Anniversary Event, San Diego, California Feb, 2007

bobanne.jpgRobert J. Sinclair, Former chairman and President Of Saab-Scania Of America passes away at the age of 77.

Friends, it is with a very heavy heart that we share this news we’ve received from Santa Barbara, California. Our friend Robert “Uncle Bob” Sinclair has succumbed to his valiant battle with cancer. He passed away last evening around 8:30pm PST surrounded by his beloved wife of 56 years, Anne Sinclair, and members of his family. Bob was a great friend to all those who came his way, a devoted family man and the manifestation of a sort of sea-change in the way the automotive industry was conducted in the latter half of the 20th century.

Sinclair first joined Saab in March, 1958 as one of the Swedish automaker’s first field representatives when the company was known as Saab Motors, Inc. He further served as public relations manager and advertising manager. In 1962, Sinclair accepted a position at Volvo. He went onto assume the role of president of Volvo’s Western U.S. distribution company, which was based in California. There he created a strong and effective network of dealers, dramatically increasing sales volume.

In 1979, Bob Sinclair rejoined Saab as the President of Saab-Scania of America, where he changed the image of Saab in the United States into a more upscale and worthy contender in the automotive landscape. During this time, he was responsible for introducing the Saab 900 Turbo, the Saab 900 Convertible as well as the Saab 9000 model lineup which, along with his strengths, led to the historic “60 consecutive months of positive sales” for Saab cars in the United States (1982-1986). At that time, Sweden’s King Carl Gustav XVI named Sinclair the commander of the polar star, the highest honor presented to persons other than heads of state for economic, cultural and academic contributions in Sweden.

In 1991, he retired and handed over the torch to his colleague, Sten Helling. According to Sinclair, “It has never been my plan to work to the traditional retirement age of 65, as I have many and varied personal interests that business pressures have kept me from pursuing to the degree to which I’d like.” He continued, “I love fly fishing. A leading automotive journal recently summed it up when it quoted me as saying, “It takes ten minutes to tie a fly. I don’t have ten minutes.”

Bob was the guy who challenged the engineers at Saab in the early 80s to construct that Saab 900 Convertible concept which later spawned a revolution of new drop-top models across the world automotive scene and quite possibly earned Saab permanent recognition as a builder of truly world-class convertible automobiles. Bob presided over one of the most prosperous times for Saab in the United States, changing the way that car companies interact with their customers and extend the customer service experience into innovative new media.

Bob’s cordial manner and lust for life will certainly be missed as we move forward, but perhaps we can all take a page from the book of life that Bob wrote in his 76 years on this Earth. Even when Bob knew his time with us would be cut short by cancer, he didn’t let it get him down; living every moment he could for the sake of living. He once said it best in an interview conducted by Saab History: “It’s easier to apologize than to ask permission.” This quote, perhaps a mantra to some, I think sums up what our dear old friend was all about.

Bob, old friend, we hope that you’ve achieved whatever celestial reward you were hoping for. We hope the vintage motorcycles, Ferraris and Dune Buggies are full of fuel, and that the roads are twisty and gorgeous and that you never run out of rare fish to find. The Saab community, which certainly wouldn’t be as strong had you not achieved such great things as an individual and in business, will never forget you.

Friends, we would invite you to share any memories you may have shared with Mr. Sinclair in the comments section.

Ryan Emge & Carl Levine


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28 Responses to “Robert J. Sinclair (1931-2009)”

  1. Tom Nelson

    12. May, 2009

    Ryan & Carl…. thanks for posting this remembrance of Uncle Bob.

    My “Thinking of You” greeting card to Bob & Anne is still sitting on my kitchen table intended to be mailed today. In the card my thoughts of Uncle Bob would include reference to many fond memories: my autographed 1986 Saab 900 Convertible, video of Bob when he stopped by our house with his SAABSA motorcycle to have an elk sausage breakfast with us here in Evergreen, and the fresh avacados Bob sent us from his backyard in Santa Barbara.

    He was a wonderful human being, and we will miss him, especially at Copper Mountain come August.


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  2. Stephanie Krupnik

    12. May, 2009

    I started working at Saab in 1987 as an office temp and was working in the IDS department. One day while sitting at my desk I heard a loud “roar” from an engine and didn’t know what it was. All of a sudden I saw Bob Sinclair go flying by on his Harley Davidson Motorcycle!…I couldn’t believe my eyes! I went home that night and told my husband what an awesome place that was to work.

    Bob Sinclair was a hugh “presence” at Saab. I was lucky enough to work there during the “record sales years” and enjoyed the monthly celebrations. Those were the happiest years of my working life and to this day I still think about them.

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    12. May, 2009

    One of my favorite uncle Bob quotes — “Just remember — all the good stuff is behind the curtains”. And more than once when I was in Saab land, snooping around where I was not supposed to be, I encountered Uncle Bob doing just the same thing.” Isn’t this stuff great!” he would always exclaim, as if what we were doing was just the best,which it was. RIP Bob, you will be missed by many.

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  4. Angela Richter

    12. May, 2009

    I was also working at Saab during those “record sales years” and enjoyed the ultimate gift of working in such a positive, fun environment. I was also there when Bob Sinclair rode that motorcycle into the building, and then into the elevator to the second floor and then to the third floor–so everyone could enjoy his ride!

    It was the best place I ever worked and still brings me so many great memories.

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  5. Dan Prescott

    12. May, 2009

    Bob Sinclair always knew that a great car company needed great cars, and he truly believed in Saabs. I interviewed Bob once and asked him what prompted him to return to Saab in 1979 after 17 years at Volvo. Among his many reasons, he described his first drive in the brand-new Saab 900 Turbo during negotiations to become Saab’s new U.S. president: “We found ourselves in the countryside outside of Stockholm, on some twisting blacktop roads, and that car just blew me away!” Sinclair continued, “With some racing in my past, I knew how to drive, of course, and I tell you, I had all four wheels off the ground. The executive VP in the passenger seat had quite a look on his face, as he was not really a car guy and was not used to this sort of thing. I pulled the 900 Turbo over to the side of the road and said I can’t believe this; this is going to be a piece of cake. This car is fantastic! There were no turbocharged cars on the market except Saab. It was a perfect set up.”

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  6. Arsey Miller

    12. May, 2009

    When Bob came to SAAB I had already worked there for a while under several other people… Bob came and changed it all. Being a regional guy at the time I only saw him occasionally at shows and event.. but he always remembered who I was and always asked about the dealers and the people in the region and the dealerships. When I moved to Ct. I spent more time around Bob and Sten and leared so much… Also had so much fun. Bob was always up for a SAB Club convention or a race somewhere…. One of the best event I have ever been involved with was Nashville and the introduction of the 9000 (still a great car!)
    After I left SAAB in 1992 I still ran into Bob around the world at various International Show… we would talk about the days
    at SAAB, laugh about thing that had happened and sometimes (if I was lucky) we would walk the floor and look at cars, most of which never made it to the US. Last time I was with Bob was in CT at the reunion Rossi put together.. we had a few laughs, talked about the Royal Enfield I bought from him years earlier and some of the Swedes we both knew.
    Bob was a guy we could all look up to, a leader, a business man,a car guy and a friend.. I’ll miss him.

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  7. Alfred H. Schmidt

    12. May, 2009

    I started working for Saab as an Instructor in April 1979. Bob Sinclair was introdused to us at a meeting a few weeks later. I still remember his down to earth demeaner, he was my boss but he asked all of us to call him ” Bob “. The last time I saw Bob was at the Saab Convention in Keystone,CO when him and Ann arrived in his Saab 93. I have never met or worked for a nicer person.

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  8. Peter Gilbert

    12. May, 2009

    I will always remember Bob for the great progress Saab made under his stewardship, he had great business acumen and vision.

    I always enjoyed talking to him at the conventions, and experiencing, with sound and sight, his unique Anglo-Swedish motorbike.

    Bob, you will be greatly missed.

    Peter Gilbert

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  9. Ben Tyson aka Nashvegas

    12. May, 2009

    I am so saddened to hear of this. I began to correspond with Bob via an email list called Turbo! in the 90’s… he was truly TRULY a great man. Back then I was in my early 20’s, just graduated from college. I was Saab-obsessed, God he was a smart man who I’m sure left an impact on tons of people. I called him James Bond.

    A couple Bob stories:

    I converted a 1983 8 valve turbo to 16 valves and kept CIS and asked about eleventy billion questions a day about it on Saabnet, Turbo! and elsewhere. When it was all done, Bob sent an email to me… the only thing it said was “Good work”. I thought it was pretty cool.

    So then I got out of Saabs a few years later (work, moved on with life, couldn’t spend all my money on car parts any more). So then 10 or so years later , I impulse bought a red 90 SPG and took it to the 2007 Saab convention. I had the chance to say hello to him and talk to him at the very neat dinner / awards event at the Heritage Collection building. He was standing next to that red ’86 convertible (yes, red) … He remembered me and asked me about my current stable of cars. I explained to him that my wife was none too pleased that I was at the saab convention the WEEK after my wedding. And that she wasn’t supportive of my car racing, car hobbies, Ducati desire and parts car in the back driveway. So newly-married me asked Bob how he got away with doing all the fun things he did. Or if he had any advice I could apply to my then 1 week old marriage. He had the best answer:

    “Tell her you do many VERY dangerous things VERY safely”

    It was always that type of thing he said. What a great guy.

    2 other bits about Bob:

    1) He introduced me (and about 15-20 others) to Aquavit at the last Saab convention in Colorado (1999 maybe?).

    2) When we corresponded in the 90’s, he always referred to his wife as “the lovely Anne”. To this day whenever I write about or talk about my wife, I call her “the lovely Lesly” because I thought it was so cool.

    I wish I’d had the chance to work for Bob at some point or know him better, but even these small things made a big impact on my life. Bob, we’ll miss you.

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  10. Richard Schalij

    12. May, 2009

    Sorry to hear of his passing, I wish I’d met him. Cool guy.

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    12. May, 2009

    Words cannot come close to what my feelings have always been about Bob Sinclair and how working under him, during the 1980’s, I can look back upon as the best years of my life.

    Bob’s guidance, direction, philosophies, ideals and ways of treating people will never be forgotten….and I am sure that there are hundreds of others, from our days together, in Orange, will attest to what I say.

    On a couple of occasions, over the years, I have been asked by ‘The Vintage Saab Club” to write an article about “What It Was Like To Work For Saab – Especially During The Time Bob Sinclair Was Its President” – I just recently finished the article (8-pages) and it will be in the next issue of “The Vintage Views” due out the end of this month!

    Everyone involved, myself included, were hoping that Bob would be not only surprised to see it…but also appreciative of it – as I tried, as best I could, to convey my sincerest appreciation of those times and one more time answer the question he always asked us: “ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?”

    The answer always, always being a very loud – YES!!!

    Bob it was one hell of a ride….and while you are no longer here with us, I hope it somehow continues on for you!

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  12. Ron Collins

    12. May, 2009

    The first time I met Bob I was 8 years old. He walked into our family’s dealership on April 1, 1959 and sat down with my father and signed us up as a SAAB dealer in Flint ,Michigan. What impressed me the most was his ability to make you feel comfortable.He had a great quality of remembering who you were and he always made you feel important. Over the years, when we met at SAAB dealer meetings, he would always come over to ask how our family was doing and how we were getting along, always on a first name basis. His passion for all things good was contagious. We will truly miss him……..

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  13. John Pasternak

    12. May, 2009

    I will never forget coming home from my first day of work at Saab in Orange. My wife asked me how my day went and all I could say was I think I died and went to heaven. Bob Sinclair made his employees feel like we were all part of a very special organization. He was an outstanding leader and a very special Man.

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  14. Steven Rossi

    12. May, 2009

    Obviously, there’s so much that could be said here…though I’m still just coming to grips with it, and getting my thoughts together. When I got the call from Bob’s son I told him that I…like so many…were preparing for a couple of months, not a mere week or two. But from what he told me, obviously the way it went was, in fact, best for Bob.

    The family, and Anne, are doing well.

    No doubt, there remains a lot more to be said…and there no doubt will be. We’ll have to see what the family plans are, etc. They’re still being formulated.

    In the meantime, Valerie Torphy and I recently started plotting a 2nd Annual Saab Employee Reunion here in Connecticut. OK…so the last one was in 2005. You know we always went our own way and did our own thing at Saab!

    We’ve targeted August 23 up around East Haddam, CT again, and were hoping to make it a tribute to Bob. Sign a big card, send him a bunch of photo’s, etc., etc.

    But just as he would have wanted, we’ll continue pedal-to-the-metal and still make it happen. Full speed ahead. We’ll work hard on it, and then we’ll play hard, too.

    Sound familiar?

    Steven Rossi

    P.S. — the ONLY non-employee invited will be Ryan Emge, in thanks for all his continued effort to perpetuate the Saab marque in America…

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  15. Rich Perritt

    12. May, 2009

    Bob would have made a great “Car Czar” for the country. I met him only a few times , but he always had the crowd laughing with him. One of the funniest stories I heard about him was that he wanted the CT State police to close down I-95 so he could ride his motorcycle to work the way it was meant to be ridden. But, I bet it wasn’t funny to Bob, he was probably serious!

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  16. Golfhunter

    13. May, 2009

    A piece of Saab Heritage is gone with Uncle Bob .

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  17. Heather

    13. May, 2009

    I have a great many wonderful emails from Bob. Stories.. joking etc. I never met him in person. But, have known him for many years over on turbo! the SAAB digest. He is one of the main reasons I overstayed my welcome there. I was so super flattered he would talk to me, and respond to my yammering & thoughts. We sparred quite frequently on politicks and Unions. Just when I thought I had a solid argument he couldn’t knock down. He’d drive a turbo’d SAAB right through the middle of it & leave me sputtering in a ditch. Loved every minute of it. Love you UBob! No one will ever forget you.

    Thanks for the “Special Black!”

    XOXO—Heather 🙂

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  18. Mike Parahus

    13. May, 2009

    A bright light left this earth with the passing of Bob Sinclair. He was always a larger than life character and a great leader. Reading some of the comments above from Arsey Miller, Tom LeTourneau and Steve Rossi made me realize just how much I miss those old Saab days and working in Orange for Bob, Sten and crew.
    Boy, Arsey…..Nashville…… there were some memories; remember those uniforms we all wore for like a week and how when the New Dealer intro ended we all jumped in the pool with our clothes on???? And then coming back into the Opryland Hotel we got on the elevator soaking wet and the door opened to some Swedish executives and there we all stood, soaking wet laughing while those stunned Swedes just stared at us like we were from another planet????!!!!!!!!!

    Bob will be sorely missed. Although I had not seen or talked to him in years I can say he was a very inspiring person to work for. As others have said he made everyone feel involved, important and part of a team effort.
    One Bob story I remember came from our Dealer Meeting at the Del Coronado hotel in San Diego. At the time I was on the service side of the team and in charge of National Customer Relations. Bob always wanted to “stay in touch” with customers and he often took customer calls in his office when someone called and asked for the President. Letters to the President were always interesting and although Bob answered a ton personally……I had a several years of “ghost writing” a lot of his customer correspondence. Bob was such a masterful speaker and wordsmith and it was such a power trip for a young guy (young at the time, not anymore!!!!) to write letters as if you were the President of the company. His vocabulary was so masterful I used to play a little game with him trying to drop in words he had never used or heard of…….often copies of the letter would come back to my desk and Bob would scrawl on them….”you got me……had to look it up….great word!!!”
    Anyhow we went through a spate of customer complaints about disc brake squealing. It was always a compromise on the service side between hard and soft pads vs. noise and longevity……so we are out in San Diego at the beautiful Del Coronado hotel and we are all out on the grand front entrance. Bob is standing there and up pulls this gorgeous Rolls Royce with a chauffeur. As the Rolls comes to a stop its brakes are squealing like a pig being chased for slaughter. Bob breaks out into a big grin and shouts……..”Parahus, where’s Parahus…did you hear those brakes on this Rolls Royce????? Next time you get one of those brake squealing letters tell them about the Rolls Royce!!!!!”
    There are so many great memories of Bob and the old Saab gang back in Orange. I don’t think I ever had a conversation with him or saw him when a smile and a laugh were not part of the conversation and that is how I will remember him. Inspirational, a maverick, a great guy and always a smile and a laugh.

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  19. Bob Sinclair III

    13. May, 2009

    Shortly after the introduction of the SAAB 9000 my father he invited me to ride in with him to the SAAB office in Orange, CT. Coming off the parkway that led to I95 is a nice, tight, 25mph almost circular onramp. Dad hit it at about 80, driving the car in a screeching slide sideways completely around the loop. Straightening the wheel on the interstate he turned and smiled “Aren’t these cars marvelous! You can’t roll the bloody things!” and allowed that he did that manoeuvre every morning on the way to work, just to clear his head.
    Dad’s life was chock full of such snapshots. He was pretty awesome as a boss, a wonderful father and LOTS of fun in both roles. Dad didn’t like the idea of leaving us all and was more than a little irked at losing strength, but I’m grateful to be able to say that he went out peacefully sleeping, with no pain whatsoever. Thanks for sharing and remembering him. He really was one of the good guys!

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  20. Heather Stewart

    13. May, 2009

    As a young employee at Saab Scania, Bob had such an impact on my love of the company. I remember at my first employee meeting he took the time to welcome me personally into the company. Working in the western region all of us looked forward to his visits. How wonderful to leave such happy memories on so many.

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  21. Eric Weiss

    16. May, 2009

    Bob was truly the right man,at the right time,in the right place.His work hard play hard philosophy inspired us all and made SAAB a great place to work.I remember the first time I met Bob in the early 80s.It was my first day at work and I stayed late to set up my desk,etc.This man came over and introduced himself and welcomed me by name (remember we had new emp. bio sheets back then).I was truly blown away.You could work your whole career at the old big 3 and never meet the ceo,not true at SAAB.I also remember when I was a consumer rep and sent a “nice no” letter to a customer who admitted driving his SAAB with the temp gauge in the red and damaged his engine.The customer unhappy with my responce went to the top and wrote Bob.The hand typed letter Bob sent back not only defended my position but noted the customers letter head indicated he was a airline pilot.Bob suggested he hoped the gentleman paid more attention to his gauges when he was flying then when he was driving.I also fondly remember our rallys,picnics,Christmas parties and even the motorcycle club all under his watch. I along with many others in our SAAB family will miss this one of a kind man.

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  22. Bill Walters

    16. May, 2009

    This is for all the folks who worked for, or knew, and loved Bob Sinclair. And this is most especially for you, Anne.

    Bob’s passing is truly the end of an era for Saab. I spent nearly 25 years at Saab, working for all types of people, from really nice guys like Ralph Millet (who hired me in 1967), to jerks whose names I can’t even remember in the early 70s, to “full of themselves, my-way-or-the-highway” types that Saab brought in from the ranks of a domestic car manufacturer (happily these folks didn’t last more than a year and a half when their true abilities were found out by the parent company), and of course, for the Suave Swede, Jonas Kjellberg, who brought much needed financial discipline to the Saab operations in the US.

    But I never had as much fun, or felt so good about going to work everyday, as I did under Bob. He encouraged us to work beyond our potential, to take risks, to make decisions without being micro-managed, and forgave our mistakes…and we really rocked. (As he always said, it is better to beg for forgiveness than ask permission). Our 60 straight months of sales increases wasn’t just a coincidence…every one of us at Saab Cars USA busted our tail feathers to prove to Bob, and to ourselves, that we could really make this company hum. He constantly inspired us to reach further and jump higher than we ever thought we could, and we had one helluva blast along the way.

    Like many of the Saab folks who have posted comments on this website, I too have many fond memories of working with Bob. One of my favorites had to do with an “issue” on I95 on the way to work one morning. When traffic would back up in the Branford/Guilford area, a lot of the “my-time-is-too-valuable-to-sit-in-a-traffic-jam” types would take to moving past the rest of us in the breakdown lane. One morning I had had enough, and when the next jerk that I saw in my rearview mirror was charging up the breakdown lane, I pulled over in front of him (half in the breakdown lane, half in the traveling lane), causing said jerk to brake very sharply. I stayed in that position as we crept along until the traffic started flowing again.

    Later that morning, Bob called me into his office and asked me about the above incident, as he had just had a most irate call from Mr Jerk (since we had distributor plates, Mr Jerk knew exactly who to call and complain to). I explained the situation, and Bob immediately stuck out his hand and said “Great job! I would have done exactly the same thing”. Such are the memories that made coming to work so much fun.

    Now that I am retired, and can reflect on those years from another point of view, I can’t help but think how neat it would have been if many of the great pooh-bahs in the domestic car business could have taken a few lessons from Bob. Had they done so, the industry certainly would not be in the trouble it is today if those leaders ran their companies the way Bob Sinclair inspired us all at Saab Cars USA.

    Thanks Bob, and all the best in your newest adventures, whatever they may be.

    Bill Walters (aka Bil)

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  23. Francie Richardson

    19. May, 2009

    I am so sad to hear that Bob has passed. Bob, Anne and children were our neighbors in Palos Verdes when he was with Volvo Western. They were all very close to our family.
    I remember his night rides throughout the neighborhood late, at very high speeds. I prayed that none of my children were with him. He truly was a speed demon. Or his classical music sounds in the canyon at night – which let us know he was home and not traveling. My heart goes out to Anne, Bob III, Lisa, Becky, Greg & Jennifer.
    With love,

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  24. Rebecca Sinclair

    04. Jun, 2009

    Thank all of you so much for your kind words about my
    dad. I would appreciate it if those of you who have emails from him and who wouldn’t mind sharing them with me, would please forward them to my email address. Thanks

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  25. Susan Cartier Liebel

    29. Sep, 2009

    I had three wonderful years at Saab working in the IDS department. I, too, remember the day Bob drove his Harley through the office. It was simply stunning! That we could have happy hours every Friday and get turkeys every Thanksgiving was just incredible. When I left (it was time to move on) I truly felt like I left a community. The type of work environment created by Bob was one never to be replaced. It’s no longer part of the corporate culture. It was unique, memorable and made a lasting impression upon me as did he.

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  28. Автор мастерски ведет обсуждение по поводу этой статьи
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