Dr. Gwenael Chiffoleau Assumes CEO Role at WHA

We are thrilled to share some exciting news about a significant transition within our organization. After 34 years of dedicated service, and a decade as CEO, Dr. Barry Newton has passed the torch to Dr. Gwenael Chiffoleau, who is stepping up as the new CEO of WHA International.

Dr. Newton will continue to contribute his wealth of experience and expertise to WHA as he takes on the roles of Chairman of the Board and Senior Principal Engineer. This move marks a pivotal moment for our company as we embark on a promising new chapter of growth and specialization in the field of oxygen, hydrogen, and other hazardous fluids.

As we welcome Dr. Gwenael Chiffoleau as our new CEO, we also bid farewell to another esteemed colleague. After an impressive 34 years of dedicated service, Stanna Porter, our Chief Operating Officer, will be retiring. Stanna has played a pivotal role in shaping the success and culture of WHA. She will continue to serve WHA as part of our board of directors.

To further strengthen our leadership team, we are pleased to announce the following key appointments:

Additionally, we are excited to introduce our new board of directors:

This transition represents a strategic move to further enhance our capabilities and expand our specialized services. We are confident that under Gwenael’s leadership, combined with the continued guidance of Barry Newton and the expertise of our talented leadership team, WHA International will reach new heights.

To learn more about this transition, we captured this conversation with Barry, Gwenael, and Elliot Forsyth, another long-time member of the company’s core leadership team.

What made Gwenael such a good choice for the CEO role?

Barry: Gwenael came to us [in 2002] as a Ph.D. with a specialty in metals testing in oxygen. That was a big draw. He was one of the first Ph.D.s who specialized in oxygen compatibility and the aspects of metals igniting and burning in oxygen. He also had the experience of burning metals in micro-gravity. He was running the tests and breaking new ground with his work studying the regression rate of burning metals in oxygen.

We were kicking off the metals testing program at that time, and Gwenael was the one who really pushed that technology forward for us. He came in as someone to lead our testing, but we soon saw he had a lot of ability to run projects and manage people.

He had such a strong science background he also became our senior scientist very quickly. I needed someone to ensure that our data was high quality and that the technologies we were developing were scientifically excellent. He advanced all our test systems and improved all our technologies.

In 2021, Gwenael helped develop a new custom test that explores how material thickness affects flammability.

Elliot: Our business is very niche. It really takes someone who’s grown up surrounded by the service areas we provide to be able to know them well — from a technical and from a business standpoint. He knows our business, our clients, and the industries we serve.

Gwenael is really positioned to take the vision that Barry cast 25 years ago and carry it forward. Given his background as a French Australian, he really understands the “international” perspective of our business. He thinks globally. That has been a tremendous asset.

Barry: It’s very natural then, since Gwenael has earned the respect of our outside clients and colleagues and internal teams, that he steps into the CEO role. He knows the company. He has helped develop it and will be able to push it to its next stages. He is the natural choice.

What are some of the areas where Gwenael has already made an impact?

Barry: Oxygen Cleaning. I got a call from a large medical device manufacturer, who needed help meeting ISO 15001 cleaning requirements. Gwenael went out and audited their facility, and they were so impressed that they said, “Why don’t you all just do our cleaning?” He took the ball and developed our entire precision cleaning service area based on that request.

Years later, that led to a need for ISO certification for our cleaning testing efforts. He directed our efforts to become ISO 17025 Accredited and ISO 9001 Certified for both testing and cleaning services. These are credentials that can be used throughout the world to lend authority to what we’re doing.

Gwenael played a leading role in the development of WHA’s oxygen precision cleaning service area.

Elliot: Gwenael and I have also worked closely to develop much of our oxygen safety training curriculum as well as our hazards analysis methodologies. He’s an excellent oxygen safety course instructor known worldwide as he has taught most of our advanced oxygen system design and risk analysis courses in Europe and Asia.

He also plays an active leadership role in international standards organizations. He currently sits on the Executive Committee of ASTM G04 and has been a delegate at strategic ISO Committee meetings on oxygen equipment testing.

When is this transition happening?

Barry: Everything that’s happening now is really the natural evolution of a journey that started ten years ago in early 2013. As the Management Team, the five of us really began leading the company at that time: myself, Gwenael, Elliot, Andrea, and Stanna. As our Chief Technical Officer, Gwenael was overseeing all of our external service areas (failure analysis, hazard analysis, testing, training, oxygen cleaning) and working closely with our CFO to manage our internal budgets. He also was our Quality Lead who was responsible for our successful Quality Management System. 

Around the beginning of 2023, Gwenael began guiding the team leads in setting some strategic direction for WHA. In September, he officially adopted the role of CEO, so we’re already several months into this new rhythm.

What is your vision of where the company is headed?

Gwenael: We know oxygen and hydrogen safety will continue to be key growth areas for WHA. Through our unique failure analysis services, we have seen the horrific results of fires and explosions involving these fluids. We exist to help our customers avoid these types of catastrophic incidents. That includes training and consulting but also our testing and research services.

We’re also looking to improve our test data management, incorporating new technologies like AI. We’ve accumulated a wealth of test data over the decades, and we’re eager to develop new ways to leverage that for our testing and hazard analysis customers.

Our vast experience with oxygen cleaning is allowing us to develop an exciting certification program for oxygen equipment suppliers.  For many years, we have provided auditing and consulting services to help suppliers produce oxygen-compatible and oxygen-clean equipment. We are now formalizing our auditing approach, which incorporates new industry standard requirements, to help suppliers demonstrate compliance to their customers.

Finally, we’re excited to continue to advance as a company with our employee-centric organization. WHA strives to be as rewarding as possible for our amazing employees.

Under its new leadership structure, WHA will continue to press into hydrogen safety and other emerging technologies while still maintaining its industry leadership in oxygen safety.

Barry: In order to be better than your competition, you have to advance the science faster than they do. You’re setting the standard if you do that. You need to anticipate what clients need and have it ready to go. It’s really important to keep your nose to the ground and figure out where the industry is going.

Elliot: There are very few companies in the world that do what we do, and none of them grew in the way that we grew — most of them are government-sponsored entities. We’re growing through innovation and partnering with clients in all industries that use oxygen, hydrogen, and hazardous fluids who share a similar vision.

Our entire test facility grew, not because we went out and secured some capital or investors, but because we partnered with our clients to help us develop these capabilities through new projects. I want to continue that innovative, collaborative mindset. I think that’s essential for our company to stay ahead.

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