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Interviewing Patrick de Potter, former Health & Safety manager of Tesla’s European branch


From his work in the Netherlands Marine Corps to his work in developing Tesla within Europe, Patrick de Potter exemplifies the self-made professional in the safety and security field. His achievements and stories are numerous, making it sometimes difficult to envision how they could have occurred during the lifespan of only one person. Therefore, I feel privileged to have attended his courses, hosted by the Centuria Student Association, which gave me my first real look in the practical aspects of our course. It is undoubted that, for both me and the other participants, the time spent in Mr. de Potter’s presence numbers among the highlights of our time studying SSMS.

Besides serving as an introduction to the character that is Patrick de Potter, this interview also aims to raise awareness as to the courses he teaches within THUAS, which have real potential in strengthening an aspiring security professional’s CV, and are expected to resume once the Coronavirus restrictions are at least partially lifted. This interview is to be continued in a second part, which Mr. de Potter has agreed to, where we aim to gather questions from anyone interested to learn more, organizing something akin to a Q&A.

This short, but enlightening interview with Mr. de Potter is the first of its kind as part of an initiative by the newly expanded Centuria Writing Committee. In the future, we hope to bring you the experiences, knowledge and advice of more security professionals, as we expand our network.

Our deepest gratitude goes to Mr. de Potter for taking time out of his busy schedule to be interviewed and be part of this initiative.

Q: Please give us a short introduction of yourself and your background.

A: My name is Patrick de Potter. I am 57 years old. I began my career by working for the marines for more than 9 years. As of the moment I left the marines, I went into civil protection. Later, I worked for several companies. I first started as a regular employee, and worked my way up to a site supervisor. The companies that I worked for are Unisys, UPS, Tesla, Nippon Express, Crocs, and many more.

Q: In the Centuria courses that you’ve taught you have stressed the importance of maintaining order in the workplace through management practices such as 5S. Would you please elaborate on how such practices are essential to safety in the working environment?

A: Yes. 5S means that you are working according to a structure- a structure that says “all that I need is on my desk, and everything else is not on my desk. When I’m not at my desk, my desk is clean and all my garbage has been disposed. By doing that, the next day I have a clean and fresh workspace.” That contributes to health and safety, but also to pleasure in your work.

Q: Could you tell us more about your work at Tesla and your experiences meeting Elon Musk?

A: I was hired in 2012 as a Health, Safety and Security Environment Specialist. In my time there I visited 17 countries, installing a total number of 127 locations for Tesla. Before I started, I had a talk with Elon Musk about his general demands as to my work. In total, I have met him four times. On two occasions, I have been his personal body guard in the Netherlands.

Q: Centuria has already hosted some of Safety and Security Management courses, and is looking forward to our future cooperation. How are such professional certification courses important to an aspiring professional in our field?

A: Everybody who is following an IVK or an MVK in the Netherlands has a good theoretical background for work in this field. What the students are missing as SSMS attendants is practical experience in the field. Now with the Coronavirus pandemic, and even before that, there have been few opportunities for students to go abroad and get some direct experience in a company. My courses are directed and constitute information regarding what is actually happening on the production floor. When you have no prior work experience, and apply for a job, the certificates give you the knowledge and opportunities equivalent to someone who has experience on the production floor. Also, some abbreviations and terminology of the work field are not taught to students. After my courses, you will know them.

Q: Do you believe the SSMS course at THUAS has potential as a gateway to a career in safety and/or security?

A: The study that the students are following through SSMS has great potential to be useful in the fields of production safety, security, and so on. The teachers have the capabilities and knowledge to meet their learning goals. The material that is being used is up to date, however I believe it is too focused on theory. I think students are in large need of more direct training for an actual job that would give them information from inside the field. That is something I believe is lacking in SSMS. However, Fritz van Balveren is doing a great job getting students in the field, but this is not covering everything SSMS could be doing.

Q: Lastly, what do you are the challenges for fresh graduates looking to enter the field of safety and security, and what is your advice for them?

A: The main challenge is that they accept their role as an employee, and don’t expect that they will go directly to being a manager. To become a manager you need practical experience that students lack and can only get by working as an employee. But, together with working experience, the educational package of SSMS is enough to become a manager later. Looking at future prospects, I believe anyone following this course has the potential to become a successful manager later in their career. However, I advise you to find your specialization and don’t go for a double-specialization, meaning that you should go for either safety, or security. Do not try to do them both

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