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Jean-Louis Kindler of Ways2H: “I was also taught to always keep your ears and eyes open”

I was also taught to always keep your ears and eyes open. I believe it is absolutely essential to always be receptive. If you want to spearhead change, you must be ready to receive new ideas and concepts. It means understanding them while keeping a critical mind, because, as we know, nothing is fully positive […]

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I was also taught to always keep your ears and eyes open. I believe it is absolutely essential to always be receptive. If you want to spearhead change, you must be ready to receive new ideas and concepts. It means understanding them while keeping a critical mind, because, as we know, nothing is fully positive or negative.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jean-Louis Kindler.

A veteran of the environmental technology industry who has pioneered award-winning water, waste, and renewable energy systems, Jean-Louis Kindler is the CEO of Ways2H, a leading provider of facilities that upcycle waste to produce clean hydrogen for mobility, microgrids, and power generation.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I first got involved in the cleantech sector about 30 years ago and my passion for cleantech has only grown stronger over time. My first real job was in Japan back in 1985 in the cleantech sector when I was principal of technology incubator Pacific Junction. My work there included technology sourcing for the French industrial group GEC-Alsthom, as well as building the first version of a waste-to-hydrogen commercial unit, and providing market development for a fluids-mixing technology. I would not be where I am today without my passion for tech development and tech marketing.

I owe my environmental roots to the wonderful, ahead-of-its-time Japanese culture. Even back in the 80s, many Japanese companies were already actively involved in environmental technology and communications. There was significant concern about pollution and renewable energy in Japan following the massive industrial redevelopment that unraveled in Japan after World War II.. The air pollution in large cities was a huge problem, but I was inspired by the country’s persistence and perseverance..

Being involved with technology marketing in Japan at this time placed me as a bridge between Japan and the rest of the world. I loved this global approach to sustainability that Japan naturally has, with a deep tradition of self-reliance, and how everything seemed to revolve around the environment.

I have had so many a-ha moments throughout my career. I had my first a-ha moment three years after I came to Japan in 1988, when I was at a small machine tool manufacturing company in Kyushu, on the southern tip of Japan The facility was absolutely pristine — you could lick the floor — despite the fact that they were cutting steel, which normally would involve steel shavings and oil on the floor. This was a perfect example of how it is possible to integrate industry — something inherently dirty — with the environment. Years later, I was visiting a friend in Los Angeles and he told me that he had someone that he would like for me to meet. So, I walk into his office and I meet a man who must have been in his 70s. The man’s jaw dropped to the floor when he heard my name and he said, “Are you Jean-Louis Kindler?” I confirmed my identity and told him that he could touch my arm to prove that I was real! He was very interested in waste-to-hydrogen technology and had heard about me from a German engineer who is a mutual acquaintance and who had told him about what I had done in Japan. Normally entrepreneurs have to seek out investors but, in this case, an investor found me and Ways2H grew from there.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

At Ways2H, we are part of a growing market that is disrupting the hydrogen energy sector by producing hydrogen from renewable resources, rather than from fossil fuels, which are the source of 95% of today’s hydrogen We also are disrupting the waste sector. Right now, the waste industry has no clue that they can actually produce hydrogen from waste. Our technology has the opportunity to open up a whole new market for hydrogen produced from waste.

Ways2H is providing another way to produce hydrogen that the waste sector can benefit from and that can potentially grow into its own profitable market.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Trying to integrate into Japanese culture wasn’t always easy. Back in the early 1990s, I was working with an advertising agency that was selling corporate image development programs and designs. At that time, we had a client who was making top-notch printing machines for the silk industry. The client asked us to create a design for a booth at the largest worldwide conference for the textile industry, which was to be held in Germany. I talked to a designer friend, who was from Belgium but lived in Japan, to see if he could create a sketch for a booth that would stand out at the conference.

As usual, we were in a hurry and that client was out of Tokyo so we had to take a plane to go do the presentation. I didn’t know what he was going to present, but I was shocked when he showed us a sketch of huge vertical pillars about 10–15 feet high that were shaped like a woman’s leg colored all over with zebra print, and wearing zebra print stilettos. Picture a booth with a big textile printing machine in the middle and columns all around in the shape of zebra colored women’s legs! Our Japanese client went totally blank, but we had no way to do any other proposal. That day, he told me it was the last time he would ever work with a foreign designer or creative again! But, the company was actually managed by a woman, which was kind of unusual there at the time. When she saw the booth design, she absolutely loved it but we all recognized that it was not the best idea to please shareholders and clients. Funnily enough, she liked the design so much that, after the event, she asked for one of the columns to be made for her office!

My time in Japan, including this experience, definitely improved my cross-cultural skills that are necessary for running a successful global business.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Although a majority of my career was spent working alone without many mentors, there is one person in my life who greatly shaped my career: Riggs Eckelberry. Riggs provided me with great advice on sharing technological news that I still use today. It also is thanks to him that I moved to California, in 2013.

I used to have this horrible habit of going into excruciating technological detail. Breaking this bad habit did not happen overnight, but Riggs was able to alert me to it and instil a better practice for marketing technology. It took me a good 3 or 4 years to get out of the mindset of overexplaining everything — but I wouldn’t have come to that realization without him. This idea has been especially important when starting Ways2H.

It’s also something I’m still working on every day. I was recently on a call with a young man from Spain who reminded me of myself back in those days — it was like looking in a mirror from 20 years ago! This young man had developed an “absolutely revolutionary technological method that was incredibly valuable”, he said, except he couldn’t explain it to someone who does not necessarily understand the technical background of his solution! I needed the big picture — not all the tiny details — but he was unable to do it. In that moment, it dawned on me just how critical it is to communicate properly. Of course, I understand what that young man was going through and I took it upon myself to offer the advice Riggs gave me that has been so vital in my own career.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I love how disruption is something that is both bad and good. I do not think that a disruption can be 100% positive or 100% negative because there are always benefits and drawbacks to changing existing models and systems. While you may have found a solution to a certain problem, that solution may give rise to other, new problems. For example, the switch from traveling by horseback to cars was incredibly disruptive. Though it has been great for consumers to move around with ease and has brought money and jobs to the automotive industry, this disruption has destroyed the whole business of carriage drivers and dropped us into the oil economy with all the negative implications of greenhouse gas emission (of course, at that time, we did not know). This goes to show that every event — every disruption — carries both bad and good qualities.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

The best piece of advice that I have received is that 100% of the people who didn’t try have failed. As an entrepreneur, this piece of advice resonates most with me.

I was also taught to always keep your ears and eyes open. I believe it is absolutely essential to always be receptive. If you want to spearhead change, you must be ready to receive new ideas and concepts. It means understanding them while keeping a critical mind, because, as we know, nothing is fully positive or negative.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

What we do at Ways2H is, I believe, absolutely essential in contributing to reduce, eventually stop all carbon emissions. However, one must keep in mind that we have already increased atmospheric CO2 in a significant manner, enough to trigger climate events whose frequency is alarmingly increasing. We can’t merely be satisfied with reducing CO2 emissions. The next frontier in the environment is, to me, trying to reverse this phenomenon and send back this CO2 in the air back to where it belongs, underground.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

This is not related to business, but French author Joseph Kessel wrote an absolutely magnificent book about Afghanistan called “The Horsemen”. It tells a wonderful story of decency, honor, and life achievement despite failure that has a great impact on the way that I lead my own life. I strongly believe in the absolute importance of being what I call a “decent human being”. Nobody can be perfect all the time, one makes mistakes. What is important is to be able to live with, and learn from the mistakes we make.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Like I said earlier, I believe that every disruptive event carries some good and some bad and I have spent a lot of time in Asia, which leads to my life motto: yin and yang, the ancient Chinese concept of dualism, which describes how forces are interconnected and can give rise to each other. Yin and yang is the essence of everything and shows how nothing in this world is 100% one thing. To me, yin and yang is life advice, a mindset, and a motto, such as trying to keep balance between my professional and private life.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am far too humble to even think that I could influence people! If what I do ends up helping to spark some sort of larger movement, I would be flattered,but it certainly is not a goal in my life to become an influencer.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on LinkedIn.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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