The recession hit Caterpillar hard. In 2009, its revenue fell 37% to $32.4 billion from $51.3 billion in 2008. But the Peoria, Ill.-based maker of distinctive yellow construction and mining equipment is now thriving, no small feat in a shrinking sector. U.S. manufacturing now represents just 11.2% of the nation's GDP, down from 14.2% in 2000 and from its peak of 28.3% in 1953.

Caterpillar's blueprint for success? The global nature of the company's business and its long track record not only at selling overseas but also manufacturing there, says CFO and Group President Ed Rapp. "We've been playing in the emerging markets forever," he says. "We've been in Brazil with a manufacturing base for more than 50 years." The company's 2010 revenue rose 31.4% to $42.6 billion, and its net profit surged to 6.3%, from 2.8% in 2009. And a few strategic acquisitions last year have put Caterpillar in a strong position to build on its global foundation.

U.S. locomotive manufacturer Electro-Motive Diesel, German engine maker MWM Holding and U.S. mining equipment manufacturer Bucyrus International "were just perfect strategic fits," Rapp says, and "provide a tremendous platform for growth going forward."

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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.