Former General Motors chairman James Roche died on Sunday in Belleair, Fla. He was 97.
Roche was named chairman and CEO of GM in 1967, after serving as president since 1965. He was known for promoting equal opportunity employment and responsible for bringing the late Rev. Leon Sullivan to GM's board of directors in 1971. Sullivan was one of the first blacks named to the board of a major U.S. corporation.
Roche, who was unable to attend college due to his father's death, joined GM in 1927 as a statistician and was named Cadillac's general manager and a GM vice president in 1957.
"It was not a meteoric rise to the top," says Jeffrey Leestma, president of the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Mich. "He climbed the corporate ladder rung by rung."
Roche retired from GM in 1971 and was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame 21 years later.