Two days before he died, Mainfreight co-founder Neil Graham was talking of plans to attend the Rugby World Cup and holding the trophy up with All Blacks and friends Dan Carter and Richie McCaw.

The NZX-listed transport and logistics company announced yesterday that Graham had died at age 71.

The company's managing director Don Braid said this morning that staff would "miss him terribly".

"He was a gregarious, outgoing man who had a personality larger than life, he had tremendous humour," said Braid.


"He had customers eating out of his hands and at the same time he could be a tough, uncompromising businessman who just understood where profit lay and helped set the tone for Mainfreight's development in its earlier years," he said.

Graham, who was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2013, spent 32 years at the company, joining Bruce Plested as co-managing director of the then-small firm in 1979.

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He stepped down from its board in 2011 due to illness.

But Braid said Graham had, until this week, managed to get through other health problems.

In 2012 he underwent major surgery to remove a tumour from his spine and in 2011 he had major brain surgery.

"[His passing] was a shock. He had managed to get through just about every other health issue he had. He finished up with us in 2011 as a director because of ill-health, but that didn't mean to say he was finished with living life. In fact, on Monday, he was still talking about going to the World Cup and holding the cup aloft with Richie [McCaw] and Dan [Carter] who were close friends of his," Braid said.

Graham was a car enthusiast and in 2011 he bought a $2.8 million Aston Martin supercar - thought at the time to be the most expensive car ever ordered by a Kiwi buyer.