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Russia's Oleg Deripaska on Recovering from the Financial Crisis

The aluminum tycoon, formerly Russia’s richest man, on recovering from the financial crisis and being publicly punished by Vladimir Putin

We inherited from the Soviet Union these modern cities that rely on one industry. If the facilities close, the cities would not survive. About 50 cities were at high risk. I became CEO of [aluminum company] Rusal. In July 2008 aluminum was more than $3,200 [per metric ton]. Then the financial crisis hit, and it was a free fall. In February 2009 the price was around $1,300. We had $16 billion in debt, and less ability to pay. No one could adjust the costs at that speed. You can’t renegotiate the price with suppliers that quickly. I tried to explain all that to our bankers, but they were in shock.

The speed of transformation demanded leaders who could shoot five times quicker than normal people. I’m 10 times quicker. We needed to move quickly on strategy, commercial arrangements, and other things. We set up a war room. Insolvency wasn’t an option. People were feeling desperate.