Business leaders and former colleagues of the late Sir Wilson Whineray have praised the All Black legend's performance and "wise counsel".

The leadership exuded by Whineray as captain on the rugby field saw him rise through the ranks of the business world when he retired from the top level of the game.

The Harvard Business School graduate, who died on Sunday aged 77, started work at Alex Harvey Industries in 1969 and became director of manufacturing operations when the company was taken over by Carter Holt in 1985.

Two years later he was promoted to deputy managing director of Carter Holt Harvey and began a decade-long chairmanship of the company in 1993.


Former chief executive of Carter Holt Harvey Chris Liddell said he would be "forever indebted to Sir Wilson".

"As a new CEO he took me under his wing and mentored me in the same way as I am sure he did with a novice rugby player," Liddell said.

"Some leaders you follow because you respect them, some because you like them. Sir Wilson was a unique combination of both," he said. "He commanded respect because he had a deep and intrinsic understanding of business."

The former prop was also a long-time director of National Bank of New Zealand, joining its board in 1993 and becoming chair in 1998.

Former Fletcher Challenge Forests chair Sir Dryden Spring was a director on the bank's board during this time and said Whineray was a "proud New Zealander, but a humble man".

"There was no arrogance in him, just a basic, sensible, down-to-earth, helpful sort of a guy," Spring said.

"It didn't matter if you were the Queen, the Prime Minister or a guy that worked on the shop floor, he [Whineray] related easily to people and made people feel comfortable about themselves, about being with him and about being in the environment they were in."

Whineray also was a director of Auckland International Airport and APN News & Media.

Former AIA chairman Wayne Boyd said Whineray offered "wise counsel".

Boyd said: "He was an extraordinarily good listener, [and] able to distil from quite complex discussions the nub of an issue that was being discussed and more often than not provide a sensible solution and a way ahead."