Jan-Willem Vester (1958-2009)

Posted on 07. Dec, 2009 by in 2000-2009

Photo Credit: Saab Automobile USA

It is with great sadness that I share with you the news that Jan-Willem Vester, former Manager, Saab Automobile USA Corporate Communications has passed away today at the age of 51 after a prolonged illness.

A colleague, friend and my first contact when I started Saab History, Jan-Willem Vester has been greatly missed ever since he departed the Saab community earlier this year, and will be forever remembered by family, friends and colleagues.

Jan-Willem’s life began as a young child growing up in the Netherlands with a family that worked in the automotive industry. His Father, worked as as a teacher at a local automotive school and owned a number of family vehicles such as the Peugeot 404 and 504. It was during this time, that Jan-Willem’s interest and curiosity continued in this industry where he began visiting a local auto museum in the area. It was after a number of visits to this museum, which ran numerous films that he first encountered a Saab 96 with legendary rally champion, Erik Carlsson at the Safari Rally.

As he got older, his interest and curiosity about the Saab continued even though his region was effectively split up into only two automotive enthusiasts’ camps, the BMW or the Alfa-Romeo. It made Jan-Willem wonder if there could be something like an even smarter go-between. In his travels around his neighborhood following that first taste of a Saab on film, he began noticing more Saabs in real life such as a bright white ’72 Saab 99 and an orange ’73 Combi Coupe, owned by a local architect. And so the fascination for Saab continued.

It was in the late seventies when he really started paying attention to the Saab scene when the ’78 Cardinal red 99 Turbo was introduced, followed by the first Saab 900 5-door a year later. He indicated that these vehicles were “instant dreams”, and now wanted to figure out how he could obtain one.

In an effort to continue his interest in the automotive industry, he chose an academic path focused on the dutch language, journalism and graphic design. Following his studies, he bought his first Saab, now 5-years old, which was a ’79 Saab 900 GLs 5-Door, which later turned out to be the first milestone of almost 25 years of continuous Saab ownership.

In 1985, he accepted his first official job in the automotive industry as a journalist, with a bi-weekly publication called AutoVisie, founding magazine of the European Car of the Year election in the Netherlands. Two years later, he began receiving international travel assignments, the first big one being a trip to Detroit with General Motors. During this visit, he got to see everything from the corporate headquarters, all of the divisions including the technical design center in Warren. He was very impressed at this experience from his perspective coming from Europe as a Dutch automotive journalist.

The following year, he was invited to cover his first Saab event, the 1988 global launch of the Saab 9000 CD (Classic Design) in Nice, France. It was during this event where he first met up with a younger Bob Sinclair, then President & CEO of Saab-Scania of North America. His first exclusive Saab interview took place in early 1990, when he had an opportunity to speak with then-president of Saab Automobile AB David J. Herman shortly after the formal announcement of the General Motors AG & Saab Automobile AB 50% acquisition.

In April of 1991, Jan-Willem was invited to visit Trollhättan, Sweden, global headquarters for Saab Automobile AB, nearly a year and a half following the merger. During his visit, he did a feature on the Saab Car Museum while also having the opportunity to interview Bjorn Envall, Sixten Sason’s successor and contributing designer to the Saab 99, 900, EV-1, 9000 and new generation Saab 900 models. It was just two years later when he was hired by General Motors as PR Manager for Opel and GM U.S. Products in the Netherlands. One of the reasons he took the opportunity was that following his coverage and understanding of the merger some years earlier, he saw that there could be the opportunity to work with Saab sometime in the future, so he accepted the position. When he did make the switch from AutoVisie to General Motors, many of his friends questioned his decision, but he continued his argument that “maybe there’s a chance to work with Saab!” He worked in this capacity for approximately 4 years.

His next assignment was to transfer to the Renaissance Center in Detroit, a place he first visited 10 years earlier. He was chosen to head this position as the head of Cadillac at that point, John Smith, wanted someone from Europe on his PR team. At this point, Jan-Willem’s responsibilities included developing an international PR network prior to launching an all-new product portfolio for Cadillac while pushing for Cadillac to expand beyond the U.S. He felt like he was getting closer to his dreams now being able to be on the “inside”, and chose to get the ball rolling in buying a ’94 Saab C900 S Convertible, that he was most recently driving. In 2001, Jan-Willem’s PR position changed internally where he took up a job as PR for product development for the GM technical development team in Warren, Michigan highlighting the work of the Vehicle Line Executive (VLE), a Canadian by the name Gene Stefanyshyn, who previously worked with Saab and Opel, 3 years respectively.

In August of 2004, Jan-Willem began his new position as Manager, Communications for Saab Automobile USA. During his time in this capacity, he communicated and managed many product launches from the 9-7x, 9-2x, 9-5, 9-3 to the Aero-X to the 9-X BioHybrid concept cars to the international press. In June of the following year, I met Jan-Willem for the first time at the 2005 Saab Festival in Trollhattan, Sweden at Folkets Park during a very nice outdoor bar-b-que. It was over this period of time, developing a professional relationship with Jan-Willem Vester, where I learned about how a devoted, passionate and enthusiastic employee for Saab could be such an advocate for someone that aspires to be the best ambassador for the Saab brand.

The last time I met up with Jan-Willem, was during the 2008 Saab Owners Convention where he showed me the tie he received 20 years earlier when he got his first taste of Saab at the event in Nice, France. I recall seeing how big his smile was and how thrilled he was to share that piece of his own Saab History with me and I will never forget it. The last time I spoke with him was in March, where together, we covered his lifetime achievements in an interview here on Saab History. Here he indicated how happy he was to be able to share his history with Saab, so that others could learn about his career and become inspired.

2009 signaled a change for Saab Automobile within General Motors ownership over the past two decades and in the spring, Jan-Willem Vester chose to part from his responsibilities as Manager of Saab Automobile USA.

In his own words he believed that he had always “maintained open communications” and believed his work had “helped the presence of Saab in the United States and was optimistic for the future”.

Jan-Willem Vester managed to live the dream of working with Saab. While his responsibilities were numerous, he somehow managed to do it all so well, with a smile and humor along the way.

Jan-Willem, leaves a loving family with three exceptional kids, caring friends and colleagues all over the world, who will never forget him.

I invite you to share any memories you may have shared with Mr. Vester in the comments section.

Ryan Emge

12.7.2009

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No Responses to “Jan-Willem Vester (1958-2009)”

  1. CADSKY

    07. Dec, 2009

    Nice tribute. So sad.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Joanne Krell

    07. Dec, 2009

    Beautiful story. He loved the business, the Saab brand and the people who were part of that world. He was the consummate gentleman and he will be missed by many.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Mike

    07. Dec, 2009

    Great story – RIP Jan-Willem

    Reply to this comment
  4. Kevin Smith

    07. Dec, 2009

    Jan-Willem was one of the “good ones”. He was always the ultimate professional and had a genuine passion Saab. I recall Jan-Willem expressing his desire to work for Saab years before it came together for him, it was his dream and he made it happen. I recall running into Jan-Willem one weekend at the Ferrari dealer in Farmington Hills, MI shortly after I’d moved up there. He had driven his children over to the dealership in his Saab Convertible for an Open House event they were having to show his kids all the cool cars there – passing along the passion. He was a first class gentleman, obviously a wonderful father and an excellent colleague I was very fortunate to have worked with. I will miss him.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Marla Kowalski

    07. Dec, 2009

    His love for automobiles and Saab was quite evident, as well as the love for his wife and 3 children. He was truly one of a kind. Dignity and respect are two words that come to mind when I think of Jan-Willem, which he has instilled in his family to carry on. Even through the past months, he loved hearing the stories of the automobile industry. He has touched many hearts, including mine. Jan-Willem, you will not be forgotten.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Jan-Willem was a true professional and car lover. I’ve never met anyone more passionate about cars, particular Saab and other luxury brands. Best of all, he loved sharing his knowledge with everyone. We will miss his sincere kindness and passion.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Joe LaMuraglia

    07. Dec, 2009

    Jan-Willem was one of the first PR people that recognized Gaywheels.com as an important web site and welcomed us into the Saab family with open arms. He was always professional, personable and passionate about the brand. I am fortunate to have been able to work with him and hope to be half the man he was in life.

    Reply to this comment
  8. phil

    07. Dec, 2009

    Jan-Willem was a super guy and a great professional. He was also an impressive distance runner; his endurance in the marathon coupled with his enthusiasm perfectly summed up the way he ran the rally and marathon of life.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Greg Abbott

    07. Dec, 2009

    Jan-Willem was a great guy and always a pleasure to talk with. I first met him at the 2006 Saab Owner’s Convention at Lake George, NY. He will be missed.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Csaba Csere

    07. Dec, 2009

    As a journalist, I worked with Jan-Willem for some 15 years. He was always an excellent representative for Saab, Ponitac, Cadillac, and the other GM brands to which he was assigned. Jan-Willem was always always well infomred about his cars and trucks, he was always positive, and he was one of those great guys that you were happy to meet over lunch or dinner.
    He was particualry enthusiastic about Saabs, even during the company’s ever greater difficulties in recent years. The company could not have found a more capable and passionate spokesman, or a greater gentlemen.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Steve G

    08. Dec, 2009

    Ryan; Great tribute.

    Jan-Willem was a great guy to talk Saabs or cars in general with. I had met him at a few SOC’s and he was always willing to just chat. In addition his participation in the Q&A sessions of the SOC’s was a highlight.

    Reply to this comment
  12. Joseph Lawrence

    08. Dec, 2009

    I am shocked and saddened to learn of Jan-Willem’s passing. I first met him when we partnered as driver and passenger on a media drive from the Geneva Motor Show to the Opel plant in Kaiserslautern, Germany. I was a GM ISP at Opel at the time. Throughout the trip, I discovered that Jan-Willem was one of the most interesting and engaging people I have ever met in the automotive business.

    We renewed our acquaintance when Jan-Willem moved to Detroit to to PR at Cadillac. He was a truly charming and educated professional, and will be sorely missed.

    Reply to this comment
  13. etienne

    08. Dec, 2009

    Really sad .Too young …

    Reply to this comment
  14. Peter Gilbert

    09. Dec, 2009

    This is indeed a very sad moment for us all, as Jan-Willem was one of the most decent people that I have had the personal pleasure of working with.

    He was instrumental in helping me aquire the 9-5 Aero to replace the SPG, as well as working with Concours Motors for the presentation. I was especially touched how Jan-Willem arranged the SPG to be shipped to the 2007 Detroit Auto Show and was enthusiastic in displaying the car at the Milwaukee Auto Show on its return to the museum, in Wisconsin.

    I will never forget the way he treated me at the Press Day at the Detroit Show, as passes were extremely difficult to obtain.

    His great, enthusiastic smile will be missed by all at our Saab conventions.

    Peter G Gilbert

    Reply to this comment
  15. Jim Burke

    09. Dec, 2009

    Thank you for sharing this information about Jan-Willem. He and I worked together briefly, preparing for the launch of the 9-4x. While our working relationship was brief, I will long remember him, his professional, good nature and his enthusiasm for Saab.

    Reply to this comment
  16. Jay Spenchian

    09. Dec, 2009

    Great tribute, Ryan. I cannot offer much more other than to say that during a very difficult two years at Saab, Jan-Villem was a passionate and optimistic spokesperson for Saab. He lived, loved, and respected the Saab brand and was one of its greatest advocates. He loved his family and wanted them to truly have great life experiences. I missed him when I left Saab and will miss him even more now. We have all lost one of the good guys of our industry.

    Reply to this comment
  17. Christine D'Angela

    10. Dec, 2009

    Thanks for posting this very nice tribute about Jan-Willem. He was a dedicated, hard-working professional and a truly nice guy.
    I hope that his family will find strength in many happy memories.

    Reply to this comment
  18. Marie-Ann Hallladay

    20. Dec, 2009

    Very nice tribute. I am deeply saddened by the loss of Jan-Willem. I taught him Swedish a couple of years ago. A piece of cake for him since he already knew four or five other languages. He truly was very passionate about Saab, a runner and a great family man. My heart goes out to his wife, Mariska and their three kids.

    Reply to this comment
  19. Willem Rombauts

    07. Jan, 2010

    The first time I met Jan-Willem was at the 2008 NAIAS. We got along instantly, even before we found out that both of us are dutch. He will be missed. I wish his family the strength to cope with the huge loss.

    Reply to this comment

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