WILMINGTON – Mark Newman, the incoming Chemours CEO, feels like he’s taking over a company on the verge of a turning point, finally leaving behind the vestiges of its DuPont past and starting a new chapter.
[caption id="attachment_212053" align="alignleft" width="400"] Mark Newman | PHOTO COURTESY OF CHEMOURS[/caption]
“I think there's so much enthusiasm in our ranks about where we can go with the company,” he said in a video conference interview Monday.Newman, the current chief operating officer, will succeed retiring founding President and CEO Mark Vergnano beginning July 1, with the goal of changing the company’s public narrative. He pointed specifically to a $4 billion January settlement between the trio of companies that emerged from the legacy of E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company – DuPont, Chemours and Corteva – that ends years of legal wrangling over who’s responsible for liabilities from the historic use of so-called “forever chemicals.”The binding memorandum of understanding resolves the disputes that have been active since not long after the 2015 spinoff of Chemours from the former Delaware-headquartered chemical giant. The MOU establishes an immediate cost-sharing arrangement, including an escrow account worth upward of $1 billion to cover potential future legacy PFAS liabilities from before the spinoff.As liabilities in cases related to the historic DuPont company’s use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have mounted in recent years, Chemours had turned to the courts to sue its former partner companies over reimbursements. The chemicals, used in firefighting foam, nonstick cookware, water-repellent fabric and more, are sometimes called “forever chemicals” because of their extremely long degradation period in the environment.PFAS includes a variety of chemicals that are associated with increased risk of cancer, including perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which was used in the production of DuPont’s longtime star product Teflon, which is now owned and produced by Chemours, until 2013.Newman believes the PFAS settlement de-risks his company’s legacy liabilities and frees up Chemours to focus on its investments to the future.“I think this is a very manageable part of our history, and we're really looking forward to how we can take our essential chemistry to actually make the planet much more sustainable,” he said. “The company has significant liquidity, significant free cash flow generation, and is really now, and for the last several years, investing behind where we see the future going with our essential chemistry.”Among Chemours' top product lines are titanium technologies, particularly its titanium dioxide products used in automobile interiors and industrial exteriors to protect from ultraviolet light, and refrigerants, including its Opteon line that produces fewer climate-harming gases than typical hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) products.“Our chemistry is at the heart of so much that could make the planet more sustainable, and I think this really is exciting about the future,” Newman said.
[caption id="attachment_195991" align="alignright" width="300"] The Chemours Discovery Hub, located on the University of Delaware's STAR Campus. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CHEMOURS[/caption]
His goals are to mold Chemours into a place of innovative products – led in part by its $200 million investment in the Chemours Discovery Hub at the University of Delaware STAR Campus – and an unyielding customer focus, reinforced by the company’s experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.With the supply chain upended worldwide, Newman, who oversaw much of the day-to-day response as COO, said that he saw Chemours’ importance to its clients and the need to provide them with timely, high-quality service.“With the supply chain as tight as it is, how do we meet very high levels of customer demand? As the incoming CEO, my focus this year is on executing well and ensuring we meet our customer needs,” he said. “We don't succeed unless our customers succeed, so their success is integral to our success."Part of that sales pitch is selling directly to end users. It has scored high-profile contracts for its Opteon refrigerant in recent months, including the San Jose Sharks hockey team, Chinese sports venues, and HVAC leader Johnson Controls.“We're seeing a lot of pull from the end customer, folks who want to be part of the solution around climate change and global warming, and want to proactively change,” he said.Aside from selling end users, Newman said he expects to continue connecting Chemours to leading academic researchers while also lobbying lawmakers to support more stringent environmental protections. He noted that the AIM Act, inserted as part of the Trump administration’s COVID response bill in December, was a good step toward reducing HFC production in the U.S.“We're working with the current Biden administration, and the [Environmental Protection Agency] specifically, on rules that will encourage migration to lower global warming refrigerants like Opteon,” he said.More than five years after state officials waged a charm offensive backed by incentives to keep Chemours in Delaware after its split from DuPont, Newman, who lives in the Wilmington area, said the company loves its First State home and the support of local leaders.“We feel like everybody understands what Chemours is about, and sees the significant impact that, candidly, we are having on the communities in which we operate,” he said. “We have deep roots, including our DNA from DuPont, here in the state. But more importantly, we see the future here, both with our corporate headquarters and our Chemours Discovery Hub, and so much of the work that we're doing on the future starts right here in our home state.”