He served as the president of the Ford Motor Company between 1985 and 1987, vice-chairman in 1988 and 1989,and as CEO and chairman from 1990 until 1993. He made his mark at Ford's European Operations in the late 1970s and was widely considered as a savior of the company in his stint as executive vice-president for North America in the early 1980s.
Poling graduated from Monmouth College in 1949. He earned his MBA at Indiana University and began his career in 1951 as a Cost Analyst in the company's Steel Division. Poling made his swift climb through the company as a financial executive, serving as a manager, assistant controller, and controller of the transmission and chassis division during the 1960s, then as controller of the engine division, then controller of the car product development group. During this time he was responsible for codification of much of Ford's "Finance Manual", directing his subordinates in standardization of the company's financial reporting and analysis practices. During the mid 1970s he worked in Ford's European Operations.
In the late 1970s he was vice-president of corporate staffs, then in 1980 replaced William O. Bourke as executive vice-president of North American Automotive Operations (the company's biggest operating unit). The company was in cash and cost trouble, and Bourke refused to make some of the cost cuts that chairman Philip Caldwell thought necessary. Poling was never averse to cutting cost and succeeded in returning the unit to profitability. He was often cited as the man that saved Ford Motor Company in the 80's.
Prior to joining Ford, Poling served as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy. His sometime corporate rival, Robert Lutz, had been a fighter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps. Their clashes sometimes led subordinates to joke about "who won the dogfight today?"
Poling is an avid and very accomplished golfer.