Interview with Harald Seidel – Director Finance at DAF Trucks

What does your job entail as Director Finance? How do you successfully manage a good balance between a busy profession and your private life? Harald Seidel, Director Finance at DAF Trucks, tells us about his background and work and gives some words of advice to students.

Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I graduated from Tilburg University, but that was a while ago. I studied Business Econometrics because I found it interesting how the theory would translate into practice in the business world. After finishing my internship, I started working as a financial analyst at Phillips. I held that position for several years and from there I became a management consultant. I have done many different projects and that is how I got into the controller profession. I first started working at KPN Telecom in The Hague, and then finally I ended up at DAF Trucks in 2001.

Can you explain briefly what type of company DAF is?

DAF was founded in 1928 by two brothers. They started off with trailers and have added trucks later on. In the past year, DAF has grown to become the second largest truck manufacturer in Europe. However, it is important to mention that DAF’s business goes beyond producing trucks: we deliver complete transport solutions and the production of trucks are only part of this – it is also about financial services, repair and maintenance contracts, you name it. And trucks are becoming increasingly sophisticated. The world of transport is evolving and we are working on promising technologies such as electric drive and autonomous driving. DAF is a company where much work is being done in the field of innovation, renewal and internationalization. That makes working at DAF both interesting and challenging.

“It is important for our customers to say: once a DAF, always a DAF.”

What does DAF do to remain competitive? And what are the most promising opportunities?

The big opportunity that lies ahead is to continue to offer the best transport solution for our customers. We do not focus so much on who our competitors are. It is important for our customers to say: once a DAF, always a DAF. We do not always have to be at the forefront and we do not always want to be at the forefront, but we must keep up. Therefore, we are also working on developing sustainable solutions for the future. Last year, we were able to present three prototypes of an electric and hybrid-powered truck and the first ones are already driving on the road. We are very proud of that.

You are the financial director at DAF Trucks. What does your work week look like? What does your position as financial director entail?

The role of the financial director impacts many different levels. The most important thing is to ensure that we report good and reliable financial figures. This is only one aspect, because of course it is also about ensuring that all processes behind those figures are properly guaranteed. After all, quality is essential for DAF. In addition, we also think it is very important that everyone working within Finance & Control form an integral part of the business. For example, the controller of product development knows in detail what is currently happening in the department. We always say: the business and the controllers are actually two hands that have to work very well together to achieve the best result.

How would you describe the cooperation within the management of DAF Trucks?

We have a board meeting every Tuesday morning. During this meeting we keep each other informed of what is going on and we ensure that we are all aligned. Then we let specialists inform us about the status of important projects and we discuss numerous topics with each other. We also know how to get in touch with each other outside meetings. Everyone has their own responsibility, but we all stand with the same company. DAF’ers help each other! This also holds true at management level.

“If you think you know how it is all put into place in that position, then it is time to move on to do something else because there is still so much to learn.”

How do you deal with the balance between work and private life?

A signal for me to know when it is not going well is when I get home and I am still busy with work. Making time for relaxation, sports and my family is very important to me. When I started at DAF I had a stationary computer, so I was not able to work at home afterwards. Nowadays everyone has a laptop and an iPhone, which means that you are available 24/7. Due to the fact that we are an international company, I could just read my mails all day long. When they start working in the United States, it is then 6pm here. So, you have to make an effort to stop working on time. You also need time to recharge and to be fresh again in the morning in order to make the right decisions.

What is the most important thing you have learned during your career and studies?

I think the difference between being right and being treated as if you are right. You could have made such a good analysis or such a good equation, but above all, you have to come to a solution as a group. If that does not work out, you cannot use the correct equation you made yourself. During my study of Econometrics, I learned to bring a complex problem to the essence in a formula, a sharp analysis or a conclusion. These are skills that you acquire during your studies. What you learn to a lesser extent is how you as a group come up with solutions. I learned that later during my career; so in practice.

Do you have any tips for the current generation of students?

Firstly, do not go for a six. Try being as good as possible at what you are going to do. Secondly, find something that you really like. What I would also like to say is: stay curious and be open to new things. During my career, also within DAF, I started doing something different every few years. If you think you know how it is all put into place in that position, then it is time to move on to do something else because there is still so much to learn. Finally: do not be stubborn. Do not go thinking that you already know everything because then you will learn nothing more.