Legendary business and civic leader John Roach has died

John Roach (Photo courtesy of TCU Magazine)

Legendary Fort Worth business executive and dedicated civic leader John V. Roach died Sunday. He was 83.

Roach gained fame in the business world as CEO of electronics retailing giant RadioShack after quickly climbing the corporate ladder at Fort Worth-based Tandy Corp., RadioShack’s parent company. He was equally well known for his civic activities and his lifelong support of his alma mater, Texas Christian University.

“John Roach was a remarkable leader and a great friend who was totally committed to making Fort Worth a better place to live and work,” said former Fort Worth Mayor Ken Barr. “For many years, he was Fort Worth’s most recognized business and civic leader. His extraordinary leadership was everywhere – at Tandy Corporation, at TCU, and throughout the business, civic, and cultural life of our city. We’re really going to miss him.”

Roach earned graduate and undergraduate degrees from TCU and was instrumental in TCU’s growth and development while serving as chairman of the board of trustees.

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“Texas Christian University is deeply saddened by the passing of John Roach,” said TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini. “John had the most tremendous impact on TCU; he was a devoted fan, leader and visionary who was passionate about TCU in all ways possible. John was dedicated first and foremost to changing the lives of our students. His leadership of the board of trustees and university during a time of unprecedented change and growth has made TCU the top national university is it today.”

Len Roberts, who served as CEO of RadioShack from 1999-2005, said Roach “was second to none for his desire, energy, enthusiasm and passion for his beloved Fort Worth community. He lived and breathed TCU, the Fort Worth business community and his vision for a better community for us all. He helped forge everlasting bridges between the business community and our political leadership. We are a stronger and more purposeful community because of John Roach.”

Dee J. Kelly Jr., whose late father, attorney/civic leader Dee J. Kelly, was for many years a key member of the Fort Worth leadership hierarchy along with Roach, said: “John Roach was one of the great pillars of our city for many years. His love for his family, TCU, and all things Fort Worth are unmatched. He was a mentor who always made you smile with his wit and wisdom. He leaves a great business and personal legacy behind. Fort Worth has truly lost one of its shining stars.”

Roach launched his business career in 1967, when he was hired as a data processing manager at Tandy Corporation, a leather goods and hobby retail business that owner/operator Charles Tandy had started to expand four years earlier by purchasing RadioShack, a Boston-based ham radio and mail-order business.

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After Tandy died suddenly in 1978, company director and Tandy’s longtime friend Philip North took over as interim president and CEO of Tandy Corp., according to an online chronology of Tandy/RadioShack posted by the website Reference for Business.

North had little expertise in electronics and technology, the chronology said, and as electronics grew in importance for the company North tapped Roach for increasingly important roles. By the time of Tandy’s death, Roach had advanced to vice-president of manufacturing.

But even before Tandy’s death, Roach’s technical expertise helped him advance through the executive ranks at RadioShack. Roach was appointed as RadioShack’s executive vice president immediately after Tandy death, becoming RadioShack division’s president and chief operating officer in 1980 and CEO in 1981.

After North retired in 1982, Roach became chairman as well as CEO, a position he held until his retirement in 1999, according to the chronology.

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Focused on emerging technology, the business prospered through the 1970s and 1980s, with innovations such as the TRS-80, the first fully-assembled personal computer.

Roach was credited as a visionary, who had the ability to see the power of the microprocessor and what it would do for consumers. He made accurate predictions that the computer would become more personal and interrelated long before the introduction of the internet.

In 1982, less than a year after becoming CEO, Roach was singled out as “the best of the best” by Financial World, which lauded Roach as “the driving force at the front-running company in the red-hot personal computer race.”

RadioShack was also at the forefront of telecommunications through wireless phones and service but its electronics products eventually fell victim to competition from smartphones and retail giants like Wal-Mart and Amazon, which could undercut prices on electronic gadgets.

Under Roach’s leadership, the company’s computer division was able to overcome challenges with software produced by manufacturers such as Apple and IBM.

Roach also led the company through its vast retail store expansion. By its peak in 2,000, with Roach recently retired, RadioShack operated nearly 7,500 corporate stores across the United States as well as international locations such as Mexico, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Born in 1938 in Stamford, Texas, Roach’s family moved to Fort Worth when he was a youngster, according to a biography of Roach published by TCU when the university’s Honors College was launched and named for Roach.

Roach’s father operated a neighborhood grocery store, the bio said, where Roach helped out stocking shelves, checking out customers and performing other tasks when he wasn’t in school.

While studying physics and math at TCU, he continued to work at manual jobs, including unloading rail boxcars, the bio said. He returned to TCU to earn a master’s degree in business administration, in the process learning about computer programming and the potential of widespread computer use by consumers.

Roach was elected chairman of TCU’s Board of Trustees in 1990 and led the “1990s Project,” a blueprint for the university’s agenda over the coming decade.

Roach continually encouraged TCU to approve major increases in funding for technology for teaching and learning. He also led the effort to build a $25 million technology center.

His contributions to the advancement of math, science and computer science education in the United States led to Roach’s participation in the launch of the national Tandy Technology Scholars Program, which rewards teachers

During his tenure as board chair, TCU was recognized for its financial stewardship, according to the TCU biography. He set the agenda for conservative fiscal management and championed balanced budgets. During his tenure, the endowment more than doubled to approximately $1 billion, placing it among the top 40 of the nation’s colleges and universities, and TCU’s budgets were in the black throughout the decade of the 1990s. A fundraising campaign, which Roach spearheaded through the leadership-gift phase, raised more than $126 million.

Roach also oversaw the smooth transition of leadership for TCU from long-serving Chancellor William E. Tucker to Dr. Michael R. Ferrari in the late 1990s.

By the time the TCU Honors College was launched in 2009, Roach was serving as an Emeritus TCU Trustee and as a board member for the TCU Neeley School of Business Board of Visitors and the Van Cliburn Foundation. He also served as chairman of the Fort Worth Executive Roundtable, a position from which he retired last month.

The Honors College was funded by a $2.5 million gift from Paul and Judy Andrews of Fort Worth as a tribute to Roach, a close friend of the couple.

Roach credited his upbringing for his success, the bio said

“I had hard-working parents, and certainly an exceptionally determined mother. I think if I had a role model it was of a strong family-based upbringing,” he stated in the TCU biography.

“There are so many great challenges and opportunities out there. Whether you’re looking at business, or whether you’re looking at the community, or whether you’re looking at the family, there are just an infinite number of challenges in all directions that make it exciting to get up in the morning,” he said.

This article includes information from a biography of John Roach published by TCU and an online chronology of Tandy/RadioShack posted on the website Reference for Business.