Watercare chairman David Clarke has paid tribute to the company's former chief executive, Mark Ford, who died earlier today after serious illness.

Ford stood down in mid-September from the chief executive role due to his illness and also as chairman of Solid Energy in March for the same reason.

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Mark Ford - Auckland's invisible Mr Fixit

Clarke said Ford's leadership had left Watercare well-placed to meet the challenge of providing outstanding and affordable water and wastewater services to all Aucklanders now and in the future.

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"Mark leaves a significant legacy of achievement, both at Watercare and in the broader business community," Clarke said. While Ford had been unwell for some months,Clarke said, the news of his death still came as a shock.

Environmental Defence Society chairman Gary Taylor, who had previously served as a director with Ford and was also on the board of Watercare when he was chief executive, said he was a hugely talented individual.

"He had an acute understanding of the importance of risk management, including professional risk. He had a profound influence on Auckland," Taylor said.

Ford also had a professional reach to politicians across the spectrum, despite his own more right-wing views, he said. He was also a hard task-master, Taylor said.

"He was tough and exacting and precise. As a director of a company where he was working as a chief executive, you had to be constantly on your toes to keep up."

Auckland mayor Len Brown confirmed the news this afternoon with a tweet paying tribute to Mr Ford:

Ford ran Watercare from 1994 to 2009 and was then reappointed to the expanded entity after a 16-month stint as executive chairman of the Auckland Transition Agency helping create the Auckland super city. He also served as executive chairman of Auckland Transport in its first year.

He was known as "The Fixer" but kept a low public profile apart from his time setting up the Super City structure.

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Under his leadership Watercare undertook a number of major projects including the $500 million upgrade of the Manger Wastewater Treatment Plant and associated restoration of Manukau Harbour wetlands and the commissioning of the Waikato River water pipeline and treatment plant.