Ford Motor has opportunistically improved its balance sheet in a campaign to regain investment-grade debt ratings without resorting to bankruptcy. "In 2009, we worked with the rating agencies to understand what it would take to reach investment grade," says Treasurer Neil Schloss. "Then we developed a robust and systematic plan that would eventually lead the company back to investment grade."

Ford's decision not to seek bankruptcy always meant that it would be competing with domestic rivals that had washed debt off their balance sheets. And that required Ford to be tough. Even after debt restructuring in early 2009 reduced the total by $10 billion, Ford had $26.1 billion worth of debt in mid-2009, almost $5 billion more than its cash; retiree healthcare obligations would push that debt up to $34 billion by the end of the year.

"Interest costs were not sustainable–putting us at a competitive disadvantage–and left us with no margin for error if the economy took a second dip," notes CFO Lewis Booth.

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