Former Ford chairman and CEO Harold Arthur “Red” Poling died Saturday in California at the age of 86. Poling is best remembered for helping revive Ford during the 1980s, steering the automaker on a course that led to a string of best-selling products that ran into the 1990s.
After serving an internship within Ford’s steel division, Poling joined Ford in 1951 as a cost analyst. He rose 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. He returned to the U.S. as head of Ford’s North American operations in 1980.
Poling’s return to America came as Ford suffered a $2 billion loss. By closing several factories, cutting jobs, and trimming the product range, Poling was able to return Ford to profitability by 1983. He focused on improving vehicle quality, which even meant delaying the launch of the Escort to fix problems with its automatic transmission. Poling was an early adherent of several efficient Japanese manufacturing processes, including the idea of “just-in-time” parts delivery.
Poling later pushed hard for the Ford Taurus, encouraging a front-wheel-drive layout and delaying the car by nine months to fix quality problems. It was a roaring success, and the $3 billion development program soon paid for itself.
Poling served as Ford chairman and CEO from 1990 until his retirement in 1993. When he retired, 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.
“Red Poling was an extraordinary leader who had a profound impact on Ford Motor Company and everyone who worked with him,” Ford executive chairman Bill Ford said in a prepared statement. ” Red was respected by all for his leadership, his passion for being the low-cost producer and his genuine affinity for people.”
Sources: Ford, The Detroit News