Eurotunnel (ETNZF ), which runs the English Channel Tunnel, lost more than $170 million in 2000. Yet Chief Financial Officer Richard Shirrefs says those losses will soon be but a memory. Shirrefs, a biology grad-turned-accountant who joined the group in 1996, has cut costs by 13% and the debtload by a fifth, to $9.8 billion. Eurotunnel should actually break even next year. Impressed, institutional investors have bought up much of the 44% of its equity that creditor banks have been holding.
Shirrefs, whose eclectic career includes stints at defense group AlliedSignal and British supermarket chain Tesco, says the crisis strengthened his hand: "It's less difficult to force through changes quickly," he says. Take investments. The company once had little regard for return: "I decided it was time to sweat the assets." Eurotunnel's recovery will be Shirrefs' triumph: "We'll finally have made a profit, and we'll finally have become a normal company." About time.