Roche, Thomas Celestine (‘Tom’) (1916–99), businessman, was born 6 April 1916 in Corbally, Co. Limerick, one of two sons and one daughter of Thomas Roche, civil servant, of Corbally, and Kathleen Roche (née O'Halloran); his grandfather may have been John Roche (1848–1914), nationalist MP for Galway East. While he was very young the family moved to Sandymount in Dublin. He was educated at CBS Westland Row and Blackrock College, but left school at 15 after the death of his father. Thereupon his family moved from Sandymount to Inchicore, where his mother bought a sweet shop.
Roche, while still not yet 16 years of age, bought for £800 a small coal and sand business, which came with three employees and one 1.5-ton truck. He and his brother Donal, trading as Roche Brothers, made cement blocks and transported sand. Business grew slowly until the second world war. In 1944 the Roches, with a capital of £5,000, set up a gravel company, the Castle Sand Co. To meet the problem of sourcing good aggregate for cement-block manufacture, the company set up its own washing and crushing plant, and was able to expand after the war with the purchase of several former US army vehicles. Within a short time the Kidney family, prominent in Dublin accountancy circles, became investors in the company. After several years of impressive performance, in 1949 the company earned a listing on the Dublin stock exchange under the name of Roadstone. The flotation – supported by John A. Wood, who had his own quarrying and sand-pit business in Cork – was underwritten by the state-owned Industrial Credit Corporation, which was left with 70 per cent of the company's shares, despite its efforts to sell more. By 1950 Roadstone had entered the quarrying business, which predominantly supplied road materials to county councils, and grew annually, employing c.3,500 by 1974.
Roadstone became a model of business efficiency, and was helped in no small part by the excellent management structures that were put in place. A number of executives who were to later become prominent in business circles, such as Jim Culliton and Don Godson, were products of the Roadstone management structure. The company grew steadily and in 1970 launched an audacious bid for the much bigger and gilt-edged Cement Group. Such a daring action triggered a move on the part of the UK-based Readymix group, which made a bid for Roadstone, provided that Roche's company dropped its bid on Cement Group. The government-owned Irish Life Assurance held a 10 per cent stake in both Roadstone and Cement, and the government of Jack Lynch (qv) leaned on that body to propose a merger between the two Irish companies to keep most of the domestic industry under Irish ownership. The result was the formation of Cement Roadstone Holdings, better known as the CRH group.
To smooth the amalgamation process, four directors from each company were placed on the board, with former taoiseach Seán Lemass (qv) acting as independent chairman. When Lemass died in 1971 Roche succeeded him. In January 1974 he was featured in Business & Finance as Man of the Year. He stepped down from his position as group chief executive in May 1974, stating that he was making way for younger executives in the company, but remained on the board as a non-executive director until 1986. CRH flourished after its formation and averaged 20 per cent annual earnings growth in subsequent years. By 1974 it was Ireland's biggest industrial concern, and by the time of Roche's death it was the fifth largest quoted company on the Irish stock exchange.
In 1971 with two partners Roche set up Bula Mines, with the intention of developing a lead and zinc mine near Navan, Co. Meath. However, it was a highly contentious move that earned the wrath of a number of parties, including Tara Mines and the government. A long-drawn-out legal dispute ensued, with Roche effectively withdrawing from the proceedings and leaving his project incomplete. His career in business was that of a practical entrepreneur, with strong convictions that the working man was the real creator of wealth, and with little time for planning, strategies, technicalities, or meetings; he disliked speculators, shunned publicity, evoked fierce loyalty in friends and employees, and stated that he preferred building to making money.
In retirement he worked on a project for the creation of a toll-road system for Dublin, which he regarded as filling a gap in public infrastructure. This came to fruition with the establishment (1978) of National Toll Roads Ltd, in which Roche took a 38 per cent stake. In 1984 the East Link bridge was opened, and in 1990 the West Link. By the time of his death, National Toll Roads Ltd was earning annual profits of IR£10 million. The operating contracts stipulated that the ownership of each toll bridge would pass to the state after thirty years from the date of its opening. He lived most of his adult life in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, and was a keen golfer, being a member of Hermitage Golf Club for a number of years. He died on 8 July 1999 in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin.
He married Florence McEvoy (d. 1996); they had three daughters and one son, and lived at ‘Chesterfield’, Blackrock, Co. Dublin.