9 Apr 2017

Top NZ businessman Douglas Myers dies, aged 78

9:06 pm on 9 April 2017

One of New Zealand's richest men, prominent businessman Sir Douglas Myers, has died at the age of 78.

Sir Douglas Myers

Sir Douglas Myers Photo: Screenshot (fair use) / TVNZ

A beer baron, philanthropist and business advocate, Sir Douglas was born in Auckland in 1938 into a family whose influence on New Zealand's public and commercial life spanned three generations.

His family said today he had died peacefully at a London hospital on Saturday morning after a brave battle with cancer.

He was best known as the long-time chief executive of Lion Breweries and Lion Nathan, a major player in the business sector in the 1980s and 1990s.

Douglas Myers was born in Auckland in 1938, into a family whose influence on New Zealand's public and commercial life spanned three generations.

He was educated at King's College and then went overseas to continue his studies, taking a BA from Cambridge University and a business course at Harvard.

He worked for Allied Breweries in Britain before returning to New Zealand to join the family liquor firm of Campbell and Ehrenfried.

In 1965, he became managing director and later bought out other family members. The move led to a bitter court battle in which he and his father, Sir Kenneth Myers, were pitted against close family over share valuations.

The company joined with Lion Breweries in 1981 to form New Zealand Wines and Spirits and moved through various mergers to form part of Lion Nathan Australia, with Douglas Myers as chief executive.

In 1998, 45 percent of his Lion Nathan brewery was sold to the Japanese giant, Kirin, including his own stake. He then retired.

A major backer of universities and tertiary scholarships, he also helped establish the Lion Foundation.

He established a scholarship for students to attend Cambridge University with the hope they would return to New Zealand to become leaders in their chosen fields and donated $1 million to the Auckland Business School to fund visiting lecturers in free market thought.

He was closely associated with right-wing economics think tank, the Business Roundtable, serving as its chair.

He was a friend and adviser to Sir Roger Douglas, Finance Minister in the Lange Labour government. As chairman of the round table he was a leading advocate for economic reform, low taxes and cuts in government spending.

In 2002, Sir Douglas moved to live in London while also continuing to spend time on the family farm at Matauri Bay in Northland.

He was awarded a CBE in 1991 for his services to business management and was knighted in 2010 for his services to business and the community.

He was the third generation of his family to be knighted. Sir Arthur Myers, his grandfather, was a former cabinet minister and Auckland mayor and his father, Sir Kenneth Myers, was also knighted.

Speaking in 2009, Sir Douglas told RNZ about one of his big milestones - buying out Australia's Bond breweries.

"It was a major step," he said.

"I don't think any other New Zealand company had taken such a major step offshore, and everyone thought we wouldn't be able to do it - [that] we couldn't finance it, we couldn't cope with it, we couldn't manage it.

"And I think, you know, proving them wrong and showing that New Zealand firms and New Zealand companies and things can do as well as anyone else offshore is probably the single biggest thing that I've got pleasure from."

Long-time friend Don Brash said Sir Douglas maintained his interest in New Zealand from afar.

"I first got to know Douglas way back in the 1970s when he … and I used to meet about once a month to discuss what was wrong with New Zealand. And he had an abiding passion for improving New Zealand's policies from way back."

Dr Brash said Sir Douglas played a major role in supporting fundamental economic reform in New Zealand.

Business New Zealand said his social contribution was as significant as his work in the business world.

Its chief executive Kirk Hope said Sir Douglas leaves a varied legacy.

"He had a deep care for New Zealand and a better New Zealand. He made a significant contribution to an historic period of economic reform, but he was also known for his philanthropy and his involvement in education as well. So, really sad."

Sir Douglas also helped pay for the production of the Gnarls Barkley single Crazy in 2006.