Sir Douglas Myers, the long-time chief executive of Lion Breweries and Lion Nathan, has passed away. He was 78.
Myers was one of New Zealand’s most prominent businessmen, having worked his way up through Lion Nathan to build a personal fortune estimated to be worth $900 million.
In 2008, he was diagnosed with bowel cancer and spent much of his later life fighting the disease. In 2013, he revealed that the cancer had returned fiercely. Doctors told him he had only a matter of months to live.
Myers turned to new cancer drug Keytruda, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars per month.
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He was knighted in 2010 for for services to business and the community.
He is survived by his wife Barbara, and three children from an earlier marriage Jessica, Laura and Campbell.
Rory Glass, managing director of Lion NZ, described Myers as “an astute and courageous businessman” who created the foundation for the company as it is today.
‘He was deeply passionate about Lion and about New Zealand, and he instilled in us a belief that we could take on the world – and we did,” Glass said.
He said Myers was a generous philanthropist, who was committed to improving the economy for the good of all New Zealanders.
“Today the Lion family raises a Steinlager to Sir Doug. Thank you for your vision, your courage and your passion.”
MP Paul Goldsmith, who co-authored a biography, The Myers, said Myers was passionately committed to improving the country’s economic performance for the good of all Kiwis.
Myers devoted much of his time to supporting the reforms begun in 1984 by the Fourth Labour Government.
Myers said: “I realised that gaining personal satisfaction was dependent on living in a place where everyone could get satisfaction. In a large country, like Brazil, it is possible to tolerate extremes in living standards. Not so in New Zealand. It’s too small; relationships are too intense. So I was convinced that everyone had to strive to be better, to be more productive, so the whole community moved forward. It’s not good enough to live in a beautiful country.
“That’s why you’ve got to kick against the pricks, and get off your chuff and do something. The main beneficiary of the [New Zealand economic reforms of the 1980s], as I saw it, was the average Kiwi.”
Michael Barnett, chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, said Myers was a strong business leader.
“He led one of New Zealand’s most iconic firms for a long time.”
He said New Zealand’s business community would also remember him for his role in the NZ Business Roundtable, a right-wing policy think tank. Myer was a co-founder of the Business Roundtable lobby group and its chairman from 1990 to 1997.
“That was a great opportunity to influence government policy and he participated strongly in that and provided great leadership there. Because it was right-wing, there were probably a lot of people who didn’t agree with him but great leaders have a firm belief in the way things should happen and are prepared to give strength to those convictions. He certainly did that.”
BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said he would be remembered as someone who had great concern for New Zealand.
“Sir Doug provided business leadership during a period of economic reform and had a deep concern for national policy issues connected with economic wellbeing,” Hope said.
“Sir Doug’s legacy includes his philanthropy and contribution to education in New Zealand.”
He was born in 1939 and came from a high-profile family. His grandfather, Sir Arthur Myers, was Mayor of Auckland from 1905 to 1909.
Myers attended Cambridge University and Harvard Business School before forging a highly successful business career.
He began his ascent of the corporate ladder in 1965, when he was appointed chief executive of Campbell & Ehrenfried. After a number of mergers, Lion Breweries was created, which went on to be Lion Nathan.
Myers was managing director, chief executive and chairman of the firm. He sold out in 1998, when his stake was taken to net Kirn 45 per cent of the business. That deal earned him $473m.
Myers was New Zealand’s richest man for years until being taken over by Graeme Hart in 2002, according to the NBR Richlist.
He was based in London but regularly travelled back to New Zealand, where he had a property in Matauri Bay, Northland. It was there that he suffered broken bones when he fell 18m down a cliff in 2014.
Myers travelled the world aboard his 59m luxury superyacht, Senses, for some years, before selling it in 2011 to Google billionaire Larry Page.
“It’s an adventure boat and, for its size, I think it is the best around,” he said, the year before it was sold.
“I have been going around the world for the last five or six years on that. It’s been pretty good fun. It goes somewhere I want to go and I fly in, take some friends and spend a month or two.”
Myers was also a philanthropist, setting up the Sir Douglas Myers Scholarship which awards Year 13 students $100,000 to study at Cambridge University.
He also have millions of dollars to Auckland University’s Kenneth Myers Arts Centre, and supported the university’s Business School.
He was semi-retired until his death, maintaining business interests in the private equity group Bayard Capital, and Downtown Music, which produced Gnarls Barkley’s song Crazy.
In 2013, Downtown secured rights to early Beatles songs. It revealed it would administer John Lennon’s share of Please Please Me, Ask My Why, Love Me Do and PS I Love You.