Poling was a Ford lifer, having started at the brand as an intern in 1950 at the automaker's Rouge steel mill. Before working for Ford, Poling was a Navy fighter pilot who later earned an undergraduate degree from Monmouth University and an MBA from Indiana University.
At Ford, Poling quickly worked his way up the ranks through the automaker's finance department before taking higher-profile roles in the 1980s, when he became its chief operating officer during a particularly strong period in the early 1980s. By the late 1980s, Ford was suffering again when the board of directors named Poling to the top CEO position.
Over the next three years, the executive helped launch a vastly improved Mustang, the automaker's first front-wheel-drive Minivan (the Windstar) and its first global sedan in decades, the Mondeo/Contour. Poling is also credited with pushing the first-generation Ford Taurus into production in the mid-1980s.
"Red Poling was an extraordinary leader who had a profound impact on Ford Motor Company and everyone who worked with him,"ť said Ford executive chairman Bill Ford in a prepared statement.
Despite presiding over some of Ford's better years, Poling, an avid cost cutter, often sparred with Bob Lutz during the 1980s. Lutz claimed that Poling was too aggressive on cost cutting, while Poling is said to have stated that Lutz was too lax. In hindsight, both were correct, as Ford and its Detroit rivals learned in the early 2000s when the market collapsed, revealing massive debt caused by excessive spending.
Pundits at the time called their reportedly heated discussions "dogfights," in part because Lutz had been a Marine Corp fighter pilot, while Poling served a similar role in the Navy.
After retiring from Ford, Poling served as a consultant and advisor for a number of international firms.