Kurt Kuehn, United Parcel Service's CFO, sounds almost nostalgic as he recalls the financial turmoil of the last couple of years. "Even though it's been the worst financial crisis in my career, it's been a great time to be a CFO," he says. The need to ensure liquidity meant companies relied on their CFOs and finance departments more than ever, Kuehn says, and while heading finance during the crisis was stressful, it was also "energizing."

The downturn didn't spare the package delivery company, which experienced "an unprecedented decline in demand and revenues across the globe," Kuehn says. UPS saw revenue fall to $45.3 billion in 2009 from $51.5 billion in 2008, while the number of packages it delivered dropped to 15.1 million a day last year, down from 15.5 million in 2008.

Kuehn argues, though, that hard times give finance departments a chance to push through major changes that might otherwise meet with opposition. Certainly that's the tack UPS took. The Atlanta-based company reviewed all of its fixed assets, he says, eliminating the least efficient vehicles and retiring one older model of airplane earlier than planned. UPS also took the opportunity to restructure, most notably by slashing the number of its U.S. package delivery business divisions from 46 to 20. Now that divisions are bigger geographically, the company can spend more on local marketing efforts, Kuehn says. And by the end of 2009, UPS had 408,000 employees, down 4% from 426,000 at the end of 2008.

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Susan Kelly

Susan Kelly is a business journalist who has written for Treasury & Risk, FierceCFO, Global Finance, Financial Week, Bridge News and The Bond Buyer.