Paul C. Hoop Roche worked for 36 years at Erie Plastics Corp. He started as a salesman in 1972, a dozen years after his father had founded the Pennsylvania injection molding company. He worked his way up through various roles before becoming company president and general manager in 1981, and adding the chief executive officer's title seven years later. In 1991 he became majority owner, and in 2001 assumed the duties of chairman and CEO.
The Corry, Pa., firm (www.erieplastics.com) specialized in producing high-volume, high-cavitation, thin-wall rigid packaging. Under Roche's watch it started up a new factory in Massachusetts, launched a joint venture plant in Hungary, and invested heavily to completely renovate its 465,000-square-foot headquarters plant in Corry. Erie Plastics adopted lean manufacturing practices, helped develop award-winning products with major brand owners from Folgers to Gillette, and grew to more than $100 million in annual sales, with some 400 employees.
Roche has earned his stripes as a manager. A 1967 graduate from the University of Notre Dame, he served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, did a tour of duty in Vietnam, earned his MBA in 1972 from American University in Washington, D.C., and was named an honorary alumnus by Penn State University in 1996.
For his business efforts, he won local and regional entrepreneur awards and was named the Society of Plastics Engineers' Man of the Year in 1993.
Then, in early 2008, it all began to unravel quickly. Erie's biggest customer, Procter & Gamble Co., pulled a major product line, equal to about half of Erie's annual sales. The molder responded by laying off about half its workforce, while Roche struggled to replace the lost business in a softening economy. By the fall, he had renegotiated a union labor contract and found a buyer to keep the company going. Still, in late September Erie filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. And then its pending deal fell apart at the eleventh hour.
The ever-acquisitive Berry Plastics Corp. (www.berryplastics.com), a global competitor with 68 plants and $1.3 billion in sales, swooped in about bought most of Erie's assets. Last November Berry announced plans to close Erie's Corry headquarters plant, and Roche separated from the 48-year-old family firm.
In December Roche started his own consulting firm, Roche Management Group LLC, and already has several clients. He also is serving as chairman of Advantage Puck Technologies Inc. (www.adv-puck.com), which recently was acquired by private equity firm Danville Partners LLC (www.danvillepartners.com) in Cleveland. The Corry firm injection molds specialized assembly/filling/capping line container transporters known as "pucks" a niche product for domestic and international clients.