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Former Ford CEO Harold ‘Red’ Poling dies

Pioneer: Former Ford Motor Company chief executive Harold ‘Red’ Poling was responsible for the iconic Ford Taurus.

Ford pays tribute to acclaimed former leader and ‘father of Taurus’ Harold Poling

General News logo17 May 2012

FORMER Ford Motor Company chief executive Harold ‘Red’ Poling, who was widely regarded as a saviour of the company after steering it through recessions in the early 1980s and 1990s, died on May 12 at his home in California. He was 86.

Although renowned for his cost cutting at Ford, Mr Poling is also remembered as the man who approved the $US3 billion program in the early 1980s to engineer the Taurus – a medium-large front-wheel-drive model that was styled under one-time Ford Australia design chief Jack Telnack and was later under serious consideration as a locally assembled replacement for the Falcon, before the 1998 AU-series Falcon program prevailed.

As head of Ford’s North American operations in the early 1980s, Mr Poling reportedly slashed $US2.5 billion from the company’s fixed costs through factory closures and white-collar retrenchments, bringing the company back to profitability as the Taurus, launched in 1985, became the biggest-selling car in the US.

The Taurus was eventually imported to Australia in 1996 bearing the highly divisive styling that emerged with the second generation. However, the car never came close to achieving its sales targets and was discontinued two years later.

That vindicated Ford Australia’s decision to stick with a larger and more powerful rear-drive Falcon – and history is now repeating itself to a degree, with the US Taurus under consideration as the basis for Ford Australia’s next-generation large car.

80 center imageLeft: The US version of the 1998 Ford Taurus.

Mr Poling was promoted to company president and chief operating officer in 1985, became vice-chairman in 1987 and went on to succeed Donald Petersen as chairman and CEO in 1990, leading the company through another deep recession and again returning it to profitability by the time he retired in January 1994.

A fighter pilot for the US Navy during World War II, Mr Poling joined Ford in 1951 as a cost analyst and climbed through the company’s ranks as a finance executive in both North America and Europe.

He rose to president of Ford of Europe in 1975, became a company board member in 1979 and took charge of Ford’s North American operations in 1980.

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

“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.”

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