Lourenco Goncalves isn’t one for the quiet retreat, but anyone within shouting distance of the Iron Range already knew that. The chairman, president and CEO of Cleveland-based Cliffs Natural Resources is a dying breed. As the alpha CEO becomes a thing of the past — replaced by the more unimposing figures crafted by Silicon Valley — Goncalves remains a thunderous presence atop one the Iron Range’s most successful companies.
So in April, when the CEO stood in front of local stakeholders in Chisholm and asked why it’s so hard to believe his message, the point should have resonated: Why is it so hard for the business community take him at his word? To him, the promises have been filled, the checks written, and yet, there’s work left to be done on the Iron Range.
For the past half-decade, investors, Wall Street and industry types cautiously eyed Cliffs as it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and clawed its way back to solvency. That battle kept the company, Goncalves said, focused on the Cliffs’ core operations as it shed coal mines and exited the Canadian iron ore scene.
It wasn’t without skepticism though, even as Goncalves sold his vision on how Cliffs would rise above its massive debt and become a viable company in the steel industry, and shed the reputation of the bad years before him.
Billions in the hole, the Goncalves said the company would reduce its debt, and it did, cutting about $3 billion August 2014 (about $8 billion in total), despite doubts. By 2017, he said, Cliffs would only owe $1 billion.
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