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Poling, former CEO of Ford Motor Company, dies at 86

05/16/2012
Harold “Red” Poling, one of Monmouth College’s most successful alumni, died May 12 at the age of 86.

The 1949 graduate was the former chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Company, and he also chaired Monmouth’s board of trustees during his 18-year board stint.

In a statement, Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford, said, “Red Poling was an extraordinary leader who had a profound impact on Ford Motor Company and everyone who worked with him. 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.”

Poling’s name will live on at Monmouth College thanks to the lead gift that he and his wife, Marian, made in 1992 to transform the former Carnegie Library into a central administrative building, Poling Hall. A decade later, the Polings pledged a $3 million gift to Monmouth College to enhance international studies. That gift led to the creation of the college’s center for intercultural affairs and the hiring of a director of intercultural life. The Poling Room, which is the centerpiece of the department of political economy and commerce’s classroom space in McMichael Academic Hall, is also named in his honor. Red and Marian, who survives, were married for 55 years.

Poling first attended Monmouth College during World War II as a cadet in the Navy’s V-12 program. Upon his discharge, he returned to Monmouth and completed his undergraduate degree in economics and business administration. Entering graduate studies at Indiana University, the Detroit native obtained a summer internship with the steel division of Ford and later joined the company as a cost analyst in the steel mill.

He was elected a company vice president and president of Ford Europe in October 1975 and two years later was appointed chairman and CEO of Ford Europe. In 1979, Poling became executive vice president of the corporate staffs and a member of the board of directors, and the next year he was named executive vice president of North American Automotive Operations. In 1985, he became president and chief operating officer of Ford, and he was elected chairman and CEO of Ford in 1990.

In recognition of his outstanding leadership in the automotive industry, Poling was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1999. He was also one of the five charter inductees into Monmouth College’s Hall of Achievement, the highest honor it bestows upon its graduates. Poling was also named Honorary Knight Commander of the Civil Division of Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by the British ambassador.

As a child, Poling said he spent a lot of time with his father, who was a mechanic. “We’d grind valves, change piston rings and clutches and do other jobs. It was serious work, but to me, it was interesting.”

The first car he bought, the 1932 Ford Model A, remained his all-time favorite car, even though he helped develop many other Ford models.