Metals Company Hits the Pedal

Chuck McLane doesn't mince words. Named CFO of Alcoa in early 2007 and then promoted to executive vice president by the end of the year, he found himself confronting a crisis in 2008. "Commodities are 80% of our business, and aluminum prices had fallen 60% between late 2008 and the first quarter of 2009," he says, "and demand from our customers in almost every region but China was down 20% to 50%. It was a case of, if we don't do something, we won't be here in a few years."

Alcoa, with $26 billion in 2008 sales, was "in a bad state" in terms of liquidity, McLane says. The global economic crisis caught the company just as it was finishing a major growth program, resulting in free cash flow of negative $1 billion in the first two months of 2009.

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