Doug Oberhelman spoke in English on Thursday when he said Caterpillar Inc. will come out of the recession stronger than it’s ever been. But the company’s recovery, he told Rotarians in Morton, will get its start overseas in countries where recovery is happening at a faster clip than in the United States.

Doug Oberhelman spoke in English on Thursday when he said Caterpillar Inc. will come out of the recession stronger than it’s ever been.


But the company’s recovery, he told Rotarians in Morton, will get its start overseas in countries where recovery is happening at a faster clip than in the United States.


“I think you will see Team Caterpillar rise and shine like we always have and come through stronger than before,” he said in one of his first speeches since being elected vice chairman and CEO-elect of the company.


Oberhelman will take over as CEO on July 1, then as Caterpillar chairman in the fall when Jim Owens retires.


“It’s a huge challenge but it’s one I’m ready for,” he said. He noted, however, his knees began to tremble Thursday morning when told he had a call from the White House. He wouldn’t give details about the call other than to say it was productive.


He detailed his 35 years of experience at Caterpillar, including the countries in which he worked. He recalled the first speech he ever gave to a Rotary Club was in 1981 — in Uruguay. He gave the speech in Spanish.


But the most recent experience he believes helped prepare him was being told by Owens in 2005 that he was in charge of planning Caterpillar’s trough strategy. In 2005, the company and economy were booming and few thought that would change.


It did, obviously, and the trough planning the company did under his leadership is the main reason it made it through the recession still profitable, he said.


“We told every business unit to have preparations for how it would respond to an economic downturn. We were ready,” he added.


A lot of other companies, most of a less cyclical nature than Caterpillar, haven’t fared as well because they didn’t plan, he said.


Recovery will occur, he said, starting in China and other countries where construction is happening now. He expects it to start growing stronger in the U.S. this year, but not until later in the year. “So far, it’s not happening. This country is not seeing any pick up from the stimulus.”


Oberhelman said U.S. companies need to continue pushing to do business abroad. “International issues could not be more important to Caterpillar.”


Asked by an audience member about the health care reform, Oberhelman talked of Caterpillar’s expectation it will be costly to the company.


“There is no question the health care delivery system needs something,” he said. “I don’t know where it will end up, but I don’t see health care costs coming down.”


Journal Star writer Paul Gordon can be reached at pgordon@pjstar.com.