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FROM OUR ARCHIVES: How Red Poling made Lutz a finance guy

Originally published: June 22, 1998

As a rising auto executive, Robert Lutz believed that great products were everything.

Then he went to work for Harold Poling, a tough finance executive who ultimately rose to become chairman of Ford Motor Co. in 1990.

Poling had a profound effect on the younger Bob Lutz, who became a stickler on meeting cost targets at Ford and later, more famously, at Chrysler.

Here, in Lutz's words, is one encounter between the stern, financially driven executive and his product-loving acolyte:

'Red Poling, when I worked for him in Ford of Europe, had a conversation with me once. He said, 'You know the difference between you and me? If we had a product program that was on track and it was going to produce a fine car, and it was going to be competitive, and it was going to meet all its

financial targets, and the devil came to you and said, Go $5 over the cost targets, and I will make sure that this is the best and most successful car of all time, you'd say yes, and I wouldn't.'

'And I said, 'You're right. I would say yes for $5; hell, I'd say yes for $50.'

'He didn't mean it to be funny. He said, 'You are willing to compromise financial discipline, but I won't. To me, financial discipline is paramount. It comes above everything else. It comes above creativity, it comes above product. If you lose financial discipline, you've lost everything.'

'He was such a powerful influence on me that I began to think about it, and I thought, why can't you have both?'

You can reach Peter Brown at pbrown@crain.com

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