Former Farmers boss Rod McDermott, who died in a car crash on Wednesday, transformed the business into a "world class" retailer, says owner David Norman.

McDermott had been with the company for 25 years before stepping down in October last year and moving to Welcome Bay in Tauranga, where he lived with his wife Irma.

Police yesterday confirmed McDermott died at the scene on Welcome Bay road, which was a few kilometres from his house, when his car crossed the centreline and was hit by a truck.

The investigation into the cause of the accident was ongoing. According to his widow, McDermott was a good and honourable man who ran the Farmers business with integrity.

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David Norman, the co-owner of James Pascoe Group which owns Farmers, said the death was a tragedy.

"Although it is six months since Rod decided it was time for a change, the team at Farmers and the entire Norman family are devastated by Rod's sudden death."

Norman credited McDermott with building Farmers into what he said was a world-class department store.

"You could just about write a book about him, he was very, very talented and he had an eye for detail that very few people posses," Norman said.

"He deserves a great deal of credit for where Farmers is today, he really took it from almost a flat-looking business and turned it into something that we're very proud of."

McDermott grew up in Australia, and worked at Big W in the country before being head hunted almost 26 years ago to head up the merchandising area for Farmers.

When Anne and David Norman purchased the company in 2004, McDermott was promoted to chief operating officer which increased his involvement across the majority of its operational areas.

McDermott contributed significantly to Farmers' major refurbishment which included an overhaul of its stores and merchandise.

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"Farmers, prior to our acquisition, had been owned by a major Australian retailer and the stores and merchandise offer required a major refresh," Norman said.

"Rod excelled in this task and quickly transformed Farmers into the world class department store it is today," he said.

"Along the way Rod [was] promoted to the most senior executive role of managing director and chief executive."

McDermott was at the helm of the retailer when it celebrated its 100th anniversary and during the $5 million refit of its Queen Street flagship store.

Norman said he had the ability to take a suggestion for the business and to exceed expectations with it.

He said the family and Farmers had received hundreds of calls since the news broke.

McDermott was just the tenth chief executive at the business, which is almost 110 years old - something Norman said was extremely impressive.

He said McDermott and his wife were good friends to him and Anne, and often bumped into each other outside of work as they lived nearby. Farmers staff were told of his death on Thursday.

Retail commentators also paid tribute to the 61-year-old, with managing director of First Retail Group Chris Wilkinson saying he was "a bit of an icon in the retail sector".

"He lead the organisation through some pretty major changes during a pretty tough time in terms of retailing," Wilkinson said.

"During that period Farmers bought Whitcoulls; they developed all new systems and set up a new head office. All of those things happened under his watch."

"So he lead them through some fairly major changes and in a very tough economic climate."

Ben Goodale, managing director at JustONE, said McDermott would be remembered as a shrewd retailer who had a real passion for his customers.

A memorial service will be held for McDermott at St Georges Anglican Church, Ranfurly Street, Epsom in Auckland, at 2pm on April 5.

- Additional reporting from the Bay of Plenty Times