1991 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"If you want to be successful, the important thing is to do the best job you can at everything you try to do, every day. Then good things happen."
Harold Poling was born in Troy, Michigan, in 1925, but was raised mostly in Fairfax, Virginia. His father was an auto mechanic and his mother a nurse. At 12, he had a job cutting and laying sod that paid $2 a day. He also spent a lot of time helping his father grind valves and change piston rings and clutches, which probably triggered a prophetic interest in automobiles. When he was 15, Poling won first place at the National Dairy Show for his manufacturing demonstration on how to make American cheese on the farm.
At 17, just two weeks after graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Navy and spent two years in naval aviation. After his discharge, he enrolled at Monmouth College in Illinois. He attended graduate school at Indiana University. As part of his student internship program at Indiana, he spent the summer working in Ford's Steel Division. In 1951, after finishing his MBA in accounting, he began what would become a 38-year career with Ford. As president and later chairman of Ford of Europe from 1975 to 1980, Poling guided the subsidiary to record earnings. He was then appointed to be executive vice president over Ford's North American Automotive Operations. More recently, as president and then as vice chairman of Ford Motor Company, he helped direct the company to its most profitable five-year period, between 1985 and 1989. In March 1990, Poling became chairman and chief executive officer.
Among numerous honors, awards, and citations, Poling has received the Automotive Hall of Fame's Distinguished Service Citation and the Leadership Award from the Engineering Society of Detroit. He was named Man of the Year in 1988 by Automotive Industries magazine and has received honorary doctorates from Monmouth College, Hofstra University, Indiana University, and the University of Detroit. Indiana University also gave him its Distinguished Alumni Service Award in 1990.
When asked his advice on getting ahead, Poling says, "If you want to be successful, the important thing is to do the best job you possibly can at everything you try to do, every day of your life. Then good things will happen for you."
Poling says his mother was his greatest inspiration. "She was a hard worker, who inspired all of us kids," he says. "She would probably be more proud of the Horatio Alger Award than of any other honor I've been fortunate enough to receive."* Deceased