Chuck Gates, co-founder and CEO of HVAC manufacturer RenewAire, Waunakee, Wis., is retiring and leaving a sustainable business legacy that will live on to help further reduce the planet’s fossil fuel use and promote long-term environmental stewardship.
The 68-year-old renewable energy and energy conservation pioneer helped build RenewAire into one of the HVAC industry’s leading manufacturers of energy recovery ventilators (ERV) and dedicated outdoor air systems (DOAS) based on static plate enthalpy core technology. The privately held company has reported more than 20 straight years of sales increases averaging in the double digits.
Scott Forest, President, who joined the company in 2015, will now oversee all operations. Forest, is a former Global Director of Continuous Improvement at Trek Bicycle Corp., and also held senior officer positions in the U.S. Air Force. Forest spearheaded RenewAire’s move to its current headquarters in 2017 and its recently completed multi-million-dollar vertical integration investment to automate sheet metal fabrication. “Scott is committed to continuing the RenewAire mission of manufacturing products that make a positive difference to the planet and its inhabitants,” said Gates.
History Dates Back to 1978
Gates and two partners founded the company in 1978 under the banner of Solar Specialists shortly after the first Arab oil embargo and shortages sparked a budding general interest in renewable energy. Solar Specialists’ first major contract was installing 200 domestic hot water solar systems for utility Wisconsin Power and Light. The company gradually expanded its product offerings to include wind turbines, PV (photovoltaics), passive solar construction and energy recovery ventilators (ERV). The company was later renamed Altech Energy to reflect its wide energy production and conservation focus.
The addition of ERVs was a result of the nation sealing buildings to reduce energy usage, which gave rise to both residential and commercial indoor air quality (IAQ) concerns. The IAQ deficiencies inspired Gates and a partner, Doug Steege, who remained with RenewAire as vice president–sales/marketing until 2016, to eventually focus on manufacturing ERVs as the most energy-efficient solution for building IAQ deficiencies.
By 1996, the company chose to focus solely on ERV manufacturing as the most effective means to reduce energy usage and pressure on natural resources. In 2000, with the help of new shareholders, the RenewAire moniker was established, and the company was manufacturing its own residential and commercial ERVs under its own brand. The brand was originally NewAire, but a fume hood manufacturer had already trademarked it. The prefix “Re” was cautiously added to the name at a time when renewable energy was derided and out of public favor. “Attitudes have changed since then and today the RenewAire brand name is golden,” said Gates.
Prior to founding the business, Gates was a professional licensed captain, a position that took him to every ocean and logged the equivalent of three times around the globe before and during his early renewable energy career. “It’s time to get back into adventure and fun after working hard for 43 years,” said Gates, who is a former longtime member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) and the executive committee of the Center for Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM)–University of Wisconsin, Madison.
In addition to the occasional yacht captain gig, the very active Gates will maintain his many hobbies of wind surfing, music playing, cross country and downhill skiing, soccer, ice boating, ice boarding, wake boarding and other activities. After his CEO corporate position is dissolved, Gates will remain in a non-salaried capacity as a RenewAire advisor.
RenewAire’s Future is Bright
Forest’s impressive background in manufacturing methodology, organization and leadership will take RenewAire to the next level. “There is tremendous upside for RenewAire with Scott Forest,” said Gates. “He is a Lean Six Sigma black belt, QRM Level II-certified trainer and brings many new ideas to the company’s high mix, low volume manufacturing strategy that will continue the success we started at RenewAire.”
Gates leaves a conservation and renewable energy legacy with ebbs and flows throughout his career, but upon retirement, boasts a skyrocketing upturn with no foreseeable ceiling. “Doing good (environmental stewardship), can actually be good for business,” Gates said. “If you focus on something that’s good for the planet, versus just profit-driven motives, you can actually create a competitive edge in business.”
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