Sir Ron Trotter, former chairman of Fletcher Challenge, has died after a long battle with cancer.

Roger Kerr, executive director of the Business Roundtable, said Sir Ron died this morning in his sleep at his home in Te Horo, north of Wellington.

Sir Ron was 82.

Kerr said he was a "huge admirer" of Sir Ron, who he described as a "terrific New Zealander".

"It is the passing of a giant among giants," said Kerr.

Background

Sir Ron had a distinguished business career which included holding multiple directorships.

He was the director of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, Air New Zealand and Toyota New Zealand.

Separately he chaired the Post Office Bank, Telecom, the Overseas Investment Commission, the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research and the Museum of New Zealand.

He was also the founding chairman of the New Zealand Business Roundtable and chaired the steering committee for the 1984 New Zealand Economic Summit Conference.

Sir Ron was a vocal advocate of economic deregulation, having seen the light after lobbying the government for industry protection earlier in his working life.

In the late 1990s he told an interviewer that he felt he had made a worthwhile contribution to the area of economic reform.

Born in Hawera in October 1927, he was the son of the Hawera Farmers Co-op managing director. He was educated at the exclusive Wanganui Collegiate School, then at Victoria University where he graduated with a commerce degree in 1947. In 1984 the university granted him an honorary doctoral degree in law.

He became a stock and station agent, then joined Wright Stephenson and Company Ltd as Hastings branch manager. He was brought to Wellington as Sir Clifford Plimmer's personal assistant, became managing director, then chairman.

He orchestrated a merger with the National Mortgage and Agency Co to form one of the country's largest companies, Challenge Corporation in the early 1970s.

In 1980 Challenge merged with Fletcher Holdings and Tasman Pulp and Paper, creating the country's biggest industrial group Fletcher Challenge.

Sir Ron was chairman and chief executive, finally retiring as chairman in 1995.

He was knighted in 1985 for his services to business.

Tributes

Kerr said Sir Ron had been instrumental in getting New Zealand to compete on the world stage.

"He had a vision for every business he was associated with - which was to become internationally competitive and get away from fortress New Zealand."

"His leadership in that area was extremely important in getting New Zealand through a tough period," Kerr said.

Prime Minister John Key paid respect to Sir Ron's passing this afternoon, saying, "Ron's contribution to business in New Zealand was significant. His achievements, including being founding chairman of the Business Roundtable, will leave a lasting legacy.

"His knighthood for services to business in 1985 was a well-deserved recognition of the substantial difference Sir Ron made to business in New Zealand.

"His vision, determination and leadership were legendary.

"It was with much sadness that I heard of his death this afternoon and I would like to pass on my sincere condolences to Lady Margaret and his family."

BusinessNZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly said Sir Ron "will be sadly missed by the business community. He played a pivotal part in the modernisation of New Zealand's economic direction during the 1980s and after, and all of us as New Zealanders have benefited from that leadership."

Sir Ron is survived by his wife Lady Margaret and his children, including son Bill, who is chairman of investment bank First NZ Capital.

His funeral is expected to be held early next week.

- with NZPA