Photograph by Louis Nastro — Reuters

These 20 companies who showed not just that they have staying power, but that they can come back from adverse conditions and excel.

By Daniel Bukszpan
April 21, 2015

There’s a lot of romance in the idea of being a hot new company. Being the shiny object du jour is a real thrill while it lasts, but you’re only new once, and there’s always another wave coming up behind you.

Consumers are fickle, sales will lag and external market forces always come into play. It’s at these times when we see what a business is really made of. Can it weather a year in the red and return to profitability?

What follows is Fortune’s list of 20 companies who showed not just that they have staying power, but that they can come back from adverse conditions and excel. Some of them even appeared in this very publication, on a 2014 list “Fortune 500: 20 companies that lost the most,” making their appearance here all the more sweet.

Based on data from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the companies are ranked based on increase in profits from 2013 and 2014.

20. Pepco Holdings, Inc.

2014 Revenue: $4.9 billion
2014 Profits: $242 million
2013 Profits: -$212 million
Change in profits (actual): $454 million
Revenue change: 11%

Pepco Holdings, Inc. is a gas and electric company that serves approximately 2 million people in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland and New Jersey. In 2006 it earned the 283rd spot on the Fortune 500 list, but in 2013 it was very much in the red.

The following year, the company’s profits had increased by $454 million and subsequently its stock price more than doubled, jumping from 45 cents a share to 96 cents a share. The company credited higher electric distribution and transmission revenue as major factors in its increased profitability.

19. NuStar Energy L.P.

2014 Revenue: $3.1 billion
2014 Profits: $211 million
2013 Profits: -$274 million
Change in profits (actual): $485 million
Revenue change: -11%

NuStar Energy L.P. is the proud owner of 8,643 miles of pipeline and 81 storage and distribution facilities for crude oil, refined products and specialty liquids. It appeared on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” in 2015 at number 18, but in 2013 its prospects were considerably less rosy, with losses of $274 million.

After a $485 million swing in the other direction, the company’s 2014 profits came back to positive territory. There were several reasons for the sea change, including a $37 million increase in operating income in its pipeline segment.

18. NRG Energy

2014 Revenue: $15.9 billion
2014 Profits: $134 million
2013 Profits: -$386 million
Change in profits (actual): $520 million
Revenue change: 41%

NRG Energy has stood on shaky financial ground in the past, having gone through Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in 2003. It survived intact, but by 2013 its profits were so dismal it earned the number 17 spot in Fortune’s 2014 list of Fortune 500 companies that had lost the most.

NRG turned it around in 2014. It acquired such companies as Edison Mission Energy and Alta Wind, making it one of the largest retail electricity providers in the U.S., and which had the added benefit of coming with over half a million new customers. These and other changes were responsible for bringing the company back into the black.

17. Springleaf Holdings

2014 Revenue: $2.8 billion
2014 Profits: $505 million
2013 Profits: -$19 million
Change in profits (actual): $524 million
Revenue change: 22%

Based in Evansville, Ind., Springleaf Holdings is a diversified financial company whose 2013 profits were $19 million in the red. A $524 million change in profits reversed its fortunes in 2014.

“Our principal objective in the consumer lending business has been… continuing to grow receivables per branch, and we reached that objective again this quarter, helping to drive Core Earnings up 42% from last year,” president and CEO Jay Levine said in his third quarter report to shareholders.

16. Legg Mason

2014 Revenue: $2.7 billion
2014 Profits: $285 million
2013 Profits: -$353 million
Change in profits (actual): $638 million
Revenue change: 5%

Legg Mason is a Baltimore investment management firm. Joseph Sullivan became president and CEO in 2013, and profits increased $638 million in the following year, so the changes he made to right the ship must have been the correct ones. And what were they?

“We refinanced our debt, de-leveraged our balance sheet and locked in long-term debt capital at current historically low rates,” he said in the company’s 2014 annual report. “The combination of our share buyback and dividend has resulted in Legg Mason delivering one of the highest total shareholder payout rates in the industry.”

15. Antero Resources

2014 Revenue: $2.7 billion
2014 Profits: $674 million
2013 Profits: -$19 million
Change in profits (actual): $693 million
Revenue change: 107%

Antero Resources is an oil and natural gas company headquartered in Denver, Colo. Its 2013 profits were mired in red ink, but one year later they had jumped to $674 million. According to the company’s 2014 annual report, much of the turnaround was due to sales of natural gas, natural gas liquids (NGLs) and oil.

“Revenues from production of natural gas, NGLs, and oil increased from $821 million for the year ended Dec. 31, 2013 to $1.737 billion for the year ended Dec. 31, 2014,” the report said. “Increased production volumes accounted for an approximate $762 million increase in year-over year revenues.”

14. LVB Acquisition

2014 Revenue: $3.2 billion
2014 Profits: $76 million
2013 Profits: -$623 million
Change in profits (actual): $699 million
Revenue change: 6%

LVB Acquisition is the parent company of Biomet, a medical products and equipment company headquartered in Warsaw, Ind. LVB acquired it in 2007, but the company’s 2013 losses might have made LVB wonder if they’d made the right move.

The company’s performance in 2014 likely put minds at ease. It earned $699 million more in profits and according to the financial results of the second quarter of fiscal year 2014, worldwide sales net sales, U.S. net sales and international net sales had all increased.

13. Chemtura

2014 Revenue: $2.2 billion
2014 Profits: $763 million
2013 Profits: -$177 million
Change in profits (actual): $940 million
Revenue change: -21%

The 2014 performance of the Philadelphia chemical company Chemtura is best described as a “mixed bag,” as it had both a decrease in revenue and an increase in profits. Chairman, president and CEO Craig Rogerson explained some of the factors behind this performance in the company’s 2014 annual report.

“Despite operational headwinds, there were a number of noteworthy successes in 2014,” he said. “We started commercial deliveries of our high-viscosity polyalphaolefins, commonly known as HVPAO, from our new plant in The Netherlands to customers in Europe, where we see the highest demand and fastest projected growth.”

12. Spirit AeroSystems Holdings

2014 Revenue: $6.8 billion
2014 Profits: $359 million
2013 Profits: -$621 million
Change in profits (actual): $980 million
Revenue change: 14%

Spirit AeroSystems Holdings is an aerospace and defense company located in Wichita, Kan. The company manufactures aerostructures to Boeing and Airbus, and 2014 was a very good year for it, particularly in light of its $621 million loss in 2013.

The company recorded record high revenues and deliveries that represented a 14 percent increase in revenues year-over-year. $229 million of Gulfstream revenues were recorded in 2014.

11. CenturyLink

2014 Revenue: $18.0 billion
2014 Profits: $772 million
2013 Profits: -$239 million
Change in profits (actual): $1 billion
Revenue change: -0.4%

Headquartered in Monroe, La., CenturyLink is a telecommunications company that took the number 18 spot on Fortune’s 2014 list of companies that lost the most — $239 million, to be exact. In 2014, revenue decreased by 0.4%, but profits increased by a cool $1 billion, so who cares about a fraction of a percentage point anyway?

The company’s 2014 earnings results listed some of the company’s winning strategies that had led them to this point. These included such bullet points as “Recent organizational realignment has strengthened focus on sales and revenue generation,” and “Well positioned in our markets, strong portfolio of strategic assets and committed to achieving revenue growth.”

10. Hologic

2014 Revenue: $2.5 billion
2014 Profits: $17 million
2013 Profits: -$1.2 billion
Change in profits (actual): $1.2 billion
Revenue change: 2%

Hologic is a medical products and equipment company located in Bedford, Mass. Its 2014 profits were a modest $17 million, but considering that one year before they were over $1 billion in the red, they’re probably not complaining. Its SEC filing listed some of the ways in which the company had turned things around.

“Diagnostics product revenues increased 6.4% in the current quarter compared to the corresponding period in the prior year primarily due to increases of $13.0 million in blood screening revenues and $6.4 million in molecular diagnostics products,” it said. “In the current quarter, our digital mammography systems and related revenue increased $20.3 million… primarily due to an increase in sales volume of our 3D Dimensions system on a worldwide basis.”

9. WPX Energy

2014 Revenue: $3.8 billion
2014 Profits: $164 million
2013 Profits: -$1.2 billion
Change in profits (actual): $1.3 billion
Revenue change: 39%

WPX Energy is a mining and crude oil production company based in Tulsa, Okla. Just like Hologic, it climbed out of a $1.2 billion hole, making its way to $164 million in profits in 2014. The company explained how they did it on the “Investors” page of its website.

“WPX’s 2014 financial highlights include $190 million higher oil sales, $106 million higher natural gas sales, and a 68% increase in net cash provided by operating activities vs. 2013 results,” it said. “During the fourth quarter, oil and natural gas liquids (NGL) sales accounted for 50% of WPX’s product revenues and 28% of production volumes.”

8. Devon Energy

2014 Revenue: $19.6 billion
2014 Profits: $1.6 billion
2013 Profits: -$20 million
Change in profits (actual): $1.6 billion
Revenue change: 88%

Devon Energy, a mining and crude oil production company headquartered in Oklahoma City, saw a $1.6 billion increase in its profits in 2014. Since the company only had a $20 million hole to climb out of in the first place, they got to keep most of it.

“The most significant growth came from the company’s U.S. operations, where oil production increased 82% year over year,” the company’s Q4 2014 operations report said. “The substantial growth in U.S. oil production is attributable to Devon’s Eagle Ford and Delaware Basin operations.”

7. Supervalu

2014 Revenue: $18.4 billion
2014 Profits: $182 million
2013 Profits: -$1.5 billion
Change in profits (actual): $1.6 billion
Revenue change: -46%

Supervalu is a grocery supply and distribution company. The Eden Prairie, Minn., company took the number eight spot on Fortune’s 2014 list of companies that lost the most, thanks to a loss of $1.5 billion the previous year. That was offset by a $1.6 billion increase, which returned the company to profitability… just barely.

“We brought in a strong new management team with significant industry experience,” president and CEO Sam Duncan said in Supervalu’s 2014 annual report. “We focused on simplifying our operations with a view toward driving top-line sales while managing costs. Thanks to the hard work, dedication, and professionalism of our employees, we accomplished these objectives.”

6. Pioneer Natural Resources

2014 Revenue: $5.3 billion
2014 Profits: $930 million
2013 Profits: -$838 million
Change in profits (actual): $1.8 billion
Revenue change: 31%

In 2013, Pioneer Natural Resources had an $838 million hole to climb out of. In 2014, the mining and crude oil production company with headquarters in Irving, Tex., did just that, with a $1.8 billion boost that brought their profits to $930 million, all while oil prices has dropped to historic lows.

“Last year, we successfully completed the transformation of our extensive Spraberry/Wolfcamp acreage position in the Permian Basin of West Texas from a vertical oil play into a horizontal oil play with a drilling inventory that will last decades,” chairman and CEO Scott D. Sheffield said in the company’s 2014 annual report. “This shift was a major contributor to our 18% growth in production compared to 2013.”

5. United States Steel Corporation

2014 Revenue: $17.5 billion
2014 Profits: $102 million
2013 Profits: -$1.7 billion
Change in profits (actual): $1.8 billion
Revenue change: 1%

The Pittsburgh-based United States Steel Corporation — more commonly known as U.S. Steel — took the number six spot on Fortune‘s 2014 list of companies that lost the most, due to a loss of $1.7 billion in 2013. It made up all of that ground, and then some, in 2014, but president and CEO Mario Longhi said in the company’s 2014 annual report that the turnaround wasn’t exactly painless.

“Our decisions to indefinitely idle tubular facilities in McKeesport, Pa., and Bellville, Tex., forgo a proposed expansion project at Keetac, halt investment in the carbon alloy facilities at Gary Works, and support the decision by U. S. Steel Canada’s board of directors to apply for relief from its creditors under Canada’s Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) were not made easily or taken lightly,” he said. “Careful study led us to what we believe were the appropriate courses of action.”

4. Prudential Financial

2014 Revenue: $54.1 billion
2014 Profits: $1.4 billion
2013 Profits: -$667 million
Change in profits (actual): $2 billion
Revenue change: 31%

Prudential Financial is a Fortune 500 company, which also took the number 14 spot in Fortune’s 2014 list of companies that lost the most, after losing $667 million in 2013. The company turned it around though, and closed out 2014 with $1.4 billion in profits. In the 2014 annual report, president and CEO John Strangfeld not only disclosed how some of the turnaround took place, but revealed what was over the horizon.

“We have a proven track record of successfully completing acquisitions and integrating them effectively into our operations,” he wrote. “In October 2014, we signed a memorandum of understanding to acquire a stake in a leading provider of retirement services in Chile. This strategic partnership will expand our presence in Latin America and enable us to participate in the growing Chilean pension market.”

3. Alcoa

2014 Revenue: $23.9 billion
2014 Profits: $268 million
2013 Profits: -$2.3 billion
Change in profits (actual): $2.6 billion
Revenue change: 4%

Alcoa is a producer of metals, particularly aluminum. The New York City company had a lousy 2013, thanks to lower metal prices and higher manufacturing costs, which added up to a loss of $2.3 billion and the number four spot on the “Fortune 500: 20 companies that lost the most” list in 2014. But that same year, the company bounced back, and chairman and CEO Klaus Kleinfeld explained how they did it in the company’s 2014 annual report.

“In 2014, as in the years before but with an accelerated pace, we discharged legacy issues that were slowing us down,” he said. “This enables us to transform Alcoa faster and to better control our destiny in a world of continuing economic uncertainty… 2014 was another solid year of Alcoa business performance and transformation progress that delivered significant returns to our shareholders.”

2. Newmont Mining

2014 Revenue: $7.3 billion
2014 Profits: $508 million
2013 Profits: -$2.5 billion
Change in profits (actual): $3 billion
Revenue change: -12%

When gold prices fell in 2013, Newmont Mining of Greenwood Village, Colo., was hit hard. Some investors jumped ship, costing it $2.5 billion and landing it at the number three spot on Fortune 2014 list of companies that lost the most, the highest ranking of any company on this list. But thanks to a $3 billion increase in profits, its feet were pulled from the fire.

“We improved our costs and earnings to emerge as a financially stronger business, with cash from continuing operations of $1.5 billion and free cash flow of $341 million,” president and CEO Gary J. Goldberg said in the company’s 2014 annual report. “We trimmed non-core assets from our portfolio and non-core work from our organization to create a more resilient business, better able to withstand volatility and take advantage of opportunities”

1. American Airlines Group

2014 Revenue: $42.7 billion
2014 Profits: $2.9 billion
2013 Profits: -$1.8 billion
Change in profits (actual): $4.7 billion
Revenue change: 60%

Headquartered in Fort Worth, American Airlines Group is the product of American Airlines’ December 2013 merger with US Airways. Despite its new name, it still had old problems to deal with, specifically a loss of $1.8 billion that put the airline on Fortune‘s 2014 list of companies that lost the most.

Despite steep odds, the company turned the ship around, and did so to the tune of $4.7 billion. This represents the largest change in profits of any company on this list, which the company’s 2014 annual report attributed in part to a net profit of $1.1 billion that it made just in its fourth quarter.

 

Daniel Bukszpan is a New York-based freelance writer.

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