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Harold A. 'Red' Poling dies at 86; former Ford chairman and CEO

Harold Poling steered the automaker through the recessions of the early 1980s and early '90s. He also approved spending $3 billion to engineer the Taurus.

May 16, 2012|Los Angeles Times wire reports
  • Harold A. 'Red' Poling, whose nickname matched his hair color, was Ford Motor Co.'s chairman and chief executive from 1990 to 1994.
Harold A. 'Red' Poling, whose nickname matched his hair color,… (Reuters )

Harold A. "Red" Poling, a former Ford Motor Co. chairman and chief executive officer who helped lead the automaker through two recessions, has died. He was 86.

Poling died Saturday at his home in Pacific Grove, on the Monterey Peninsula, the Dearborn, Mich.-based company announced. The cause was not given.

As chairman and chief executive from 1990 to 1994, Poling led the company through a deep recession, when Ford's sales in North America and Europe plunged and losses totaled $9.64 billion in 1991 and 1992. By the time he retired, Ford controlled 25.3% of the U.S. auto market, up from 21% in 1983. It had net income of $2.53 billion in 1993, his final full year.

As leader of the company's North American auto operations during an earlier financial crisis, Poling cut $2.5 billion in fixed costs in 1980-81 through plant closings and the elimination of middle management jobs, AutoWeek reported.

"Those days are indelibly seared in my mind," Poling told the New York Times in 1990, when he became chief executive. "I run scared because I don't ever want that to happen again."

During those fraught years he also approved spending $3 billion to engineer an aerodynamic sedan named Taurus that became the top-selling car in the United States after it was introduced in 1985.

"We bet the company," Poling said in a 1993 corporate biography. "It was a tremendous gamble, but it has paid off handsomely."

Born Oct. 14, 1925, in the Detroit suburb of Troy, Poling grew up in Fairfax, Va., and served in the Navy before earning his bachelor's degree at Monmouth College in Illinois and then his master's in business administration at Indiana University.

Poling interned at Ford while at Indiana. After receiving his degree, he returned to the automaker as a cost analyst in its steel division's controller's office.

He worked his way up through the ranks to lead Ford's European operations in the 1970s and became a member of the automaker's board in 1979.

He became president and chief operating officer in 1985. In March 1990, he succeeded Donald E. Petersen as chairman.

Poling, whose nickname matched his hair color, was married to the former Marian Lee in 1957. Besides his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Pamela and Kathryn, and a son, Douglas.

Douglas Poling was one of the former American International Group executives whose bonus payments in 2009, a year after the company was bailed out by the U.S. government, drew protests. The company said he returned his bonus, which was the largest at $6.4 million.

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