Harold Poling Dies: Former Ford CEO Dead at 86

Former Ford chairman and CEO Harold Poling died Saturday in California at the age of 86.

Poling, better known as “Red,” got his start with the motor company as an intern in the steel division before rising to prominence in 1972 when he was named vice president of Ford Europe, helping oversee the development of a new factory in Spain to build the first-generation Fiesta.

The Detroit Free Press reports Harold returned to the U.S. as head of Ford’s North American operations in 1980 and was responsible for turning North American losses into one of the best years in 1984 and then helped direct the company, as chief operating officer, through the next five highly profitable years.

“With a list of accomplishments that span 43 years, including leading the company through a remarkable turnaround during the 1980s and 1990s, Red was respected by all for his leadership, his passion for being the low-cost producer and his genuine affinity for people,” Bill Ford said in a company statement. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”

Born in the Detroit suburb of Troy, Mich., Poling, the son of an auto mechanic, grew up in Fairfax, Va., and served in the Navy before finishing his bachelor’s degree at Monmouth College in Illinois and then his MBA at Indiana University.

After moving up through the ranks of the company, Poling served as Ford President as well as CEO from 1990 until his retirement in 1993.

Upon Red’s retirement, Ford sold five of the ten best-selling cars in the U.S. market. The Ford Taurus was America’s top-selling car from 1992 through 1996, and Ford built 7.5 million examples of the family sedan between its launch in 1985 and 2006.

Prior to joining Ford, Poling served as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy. His sometime corporate rival, Robert Lutz, the former Vice Chairman at General Motors Company, had been a fighter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps.

According to Wikipedia, their clashes sometimes led subordinates to joke about “who won the dogfight today?”

At the time of his death, Poling was living in Pacific Grove, California. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Marian, two daughters and a son.