Long-time chief executive of Lion Breweries, business advocate and philanthropist Sir Douglas Myers has died.

He had battled cancer and died in a London hospital yesterday aged 78.

He was one of New Zealand's richest men and was long-time chief executive of Lion Breweries and Lion Nathan. He also played a key role in shaping economic debate in the 1980s in his role as vice-chairman of the Business Roundtable.

He is survived by wife Barbara and children Jessica, Laura and Campbell.

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Four years after selling his Lion shareholding to Japanese brewer Kirin in 1998, Sir Douglas moved to live in London while also continuing to spend time on the family farm at Matauri Bay in Northland.

He was awarded a CBE in 1991 for his services to business management and was knighted in 2010.

Sir Douglas was ranked tenth on the 2016 NBR Rich list with a total worth of $930 million.

Myers' father, Sir Kenneth Myers, and grandfather, Sir Arthur Myers, were both very successful brewing magnates.

Besides accomplishments in the brewing industry, Sir Douglas put $3m into Auckland University's Kenneth Myers Arts Centre, created the Sir Douglas Myers Scholarship worth $100,000 a year to study at Cambridge University, and supported Auckland University's business school.

Sir Douglas Myers pours a Steinlager beer. Photo supplied by Lion Nathan.
Sir Douglas Myers pours a Steinlager beer. Photo supplied by Lion Nathan.

Historian and author of The Myers, Michael Bassett told the Herald that Myers was a generous, unusual person.

"He was one out of the box," Bassett said.

"He was one of our early very genuinely international people in business, and a lot of that comes down to his background. He was part Australia, part Costa Rican, part British, and part New Zealander. He studied at Cambridge University and spent a great deal of time in France training in the beverage industry."

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"Myers was a positive force in New Zealand. He was a glass half full man who made a long and significant contribution to sport and intellectual endeavour."

Bassett said the last time he saw Sir Douglas, Myers told him he was "off to see his friendly oncologist."

Chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce Michael Barnett remembered Sir Doug for his work with the Business Roundtable.

Mr Barnett said Myers contributed to it becoming a platform trying to influence policy, and some of the things it did created a better picture for New Zealand business.

"Most who knew him would say he sometimes came across as a little gruff, when in fact he was a likeable and thinking person, who was only too willing to help and engage" he said.

Sir Douglas Myers, photograph circa 1983. Photo supplied by Lion Nathan.
Sir Douglas Myers, photograph circa 1983. Photo supplied by Lion Nathan.

National MP Paul Goldsmith said in an obituary that Myers "embodied the thrusting entrepreneurialism of the last decades of twentieth century New Zealand."

"He combined his business pre-eminence with an ingrained enthusiasm for political activism, philanthropy and internationalism to become one of the most influential and interesting figures of his era," Goldsmith said.

Economist and executive director of The New Zealand Initiative in Wellington Oliver Hartwich told the Herald he had known Myers for 5 years and said he has rarely met anyone so passionate about New Zealand.

The pair bonded over fishing which Myers was passionate about preserving for future generations, Hartwich said.

Hartwich said Myers would send him long emails 2 to 3 times a week on subjects or articles and he found interesting and it wasn't unusual for a book to turn up in the mail out-of-the-blue.

"He was a deep intellectual and a thoughtful, decent guy. That's what I'll remember him for," Hartwich said.

Friend and former Auckland City Councillor Trevor Rodgers said "it's a real loss".

"He did a lot of things for people which they didn't know about," Rodgers said.

"When he heard about a family that was suffering, he would help out with money and flights completely anonymously."

Rodgers own granddaughter was provided with life-saving treatment for a rare kidney disease thanks to Myers.

When Myers found out about the syndrome, he went to a Swiss medical researcher who developed a formula to feed the child. Rodgers said the girl is healthy now, and "Doug was always there."

"He was an extremely nice guy. He was one of New Zealand's icons," Rodgers said.

Former King's College headmaster and alumni manager at the University of Auckland John Taylor said Myers had a great impact to education.

"He was tremendously generous to New Zealand education," Taylor said. "He was a major benefactor to the University of Auckland, particularly the business school."

Taylor said Myers took great interest in recipients of his scholarship programme and enjoyed following their careers.

Lion New Zealand managing director Rory Glass said they received the news with deep sadness.

"Sir Doug was the driving force behind the creation of Lion Nathan Ltd in 1988, and the audacious takeover of Australia's Bond brewing assets in 1990. An astute and courageous businessman, he created the foundation for the company we are today.

"He was deeply passionate about Lion and about New Zealand, and he instilled in us a belief that we could take on the world - and we did," Glass said.

"Today the Lion family raises a Steinlager to Sir Doug. Thank you for your vision, you courage and your passion," he said.