Doug Oberhelman
doug oberhelman caterpillar
Company: Caterpillar
Fortune 500 rank: 42

Oberhelman, the son of a John Deere salesman, had always liked heavy equipment, so in 1975 when Caterpillar offered him a job as a credit analyst straight out of college, he took it. He never imagined he'd be there for life or ever become CEO ("I'm not sure I knew what a CEO was then," he says), but his outlook changed with each new interesting opportunity. Oberhelman was sent to South America, a stint that coincided with the Latin American debt crisis and involved re-possessing equipment; and later to run operations in Japan. "When things are challenging, experience is wildly helpful. You appreciate what's going on in the business. And I know virtually all of the top 350 leaders here—I have my entire career," he says. He makes sure to get out of the Caterpillar bubble, however: Oberhelman prioritizes time with peer CEOs to make sure he is pushing and changing the company as fast as he needs to be.

  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated May 06 2013 11:34 AM ET
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