Douglas Myers was born in Auckland in 1938, the son of Kenneth and Margaret Myers. Kenneth's family had lived for generations in the area around Poznan, now in West Poland, but then in Prussia. His great grandfather came to New Zealand in the 1860s by way of the Australian gold-fields and joined a small Jewish community in their new country. Kenneth's grandmother was from the Ehrenfried family, a Jewish family of Hamburg, Germany. By contrast, Margaret Myers (nee Pirie) was born in Canada although she was raised in Costa Rica. Kenneth and Margaret lived in the eastern outer-reaches of Auckland, overlooking the Tamaki estuary.
After schooling at Auckland's King's College, Douglas followed in his father's footsteps and went to Caius College at Cambridge University. He stayed abroad for four years after graduating and was reluctantly drawn home in late 1965 to work with his father in the family hospitality business, Campbell & Ehrenfried.
Following several years of restlessness Douglas Myers developed an ambition to succeed in business not seen in the family since great uncle Louis Ehrenfried's pioneering days. In 1971 he sold most of the company's hotels to New Zealand Breweries, which was more widely known as Lion Breweries, and focused the company's efforts on New Zealand Wines and Spirits, a joint venture between Campbell and Ehrenfield and Lion. In 1972, he took full control of Campbell & Ehrenfried and during the following decade New Zealand Wines and Spirits grew into a major enterprise.
Through a series of clever and courageous manoeuvres in late 1981 and 1982, Myers transformed his half share in New Zealand Wines and Spirits into a controlling stake of Lion Breweries, then one of the nation's ten largest businesses. His first act as Managing Director of Lion was to put the balls back on the lion that had long been the company's symbol.
The restructuring and efficiency drive that Myers led at Lion was required across the entire New Zealand economy. After decades of protectionism prior to 1984, New Zealand businesses had become chronically uncompetitive. Myers devoted much of his time to supporting the reforms begun in 1984 by the Fourth Labour Government. From the mid-1980s, as a foundation member and vice-chairman, and then chairman, of the New Zealand Business Roundtable he used frequent speeches to advocate fearlessly for liberal economic and social policies.
Though he was one of richest men in New Zealand, Myers told his biographer that he knew there was greater overall satisfaction to be achieved in New Zealand.
"I realised that gaining personal satisfaction was dependent on living in a place where everyone could get satisfaction. In a large country, like Brazil, it is possible to tolerate extremes in living standards. Not so in New Zealand. It's too small; relationships are too intense. So I was convinced that everyone had to strive to be better, to be more productive, so the whole community moved forward. It's not good enough to live in a beautiful country. That's why you've got to kick against the pricks, and get off your chuff and do something. The main beneficiary of the reforms, as I saw it, was the average kiwi".
Meantime in 1988 Myers merged Lion Breweries with L. D. Nathan, a supermarket, general retailing and property conglomerate, to form Lion Nathan Ltd. The combined entity now had an annual turnover in excess of $1 billion and genuine scale. But Myers wanted to go further. He saw a 'once in a lifetime opportunity' in the travails of the corporate remains of Australian tycoon Alan Bond. Lion gained a half share of the Bond brewing assets in October 1990 and took the remaining half in June 1992. Myers rated Lion Nathan's transition to a successful Australasian company as, in many ways, his life's greatest achievement.
"All I wanted to do was engage New Zealand with confidence with the rest of the world. It was very satisfying proving wrong ... all the Aussie analysts, who thought all New Zealanders were hopeless, highly geared and never stood a chance. We did cut the mustard, we did survive. It took a while, but ultimately we produced a very profitable Australasian company."
That theme of New Zealanders competing globally lay behind Myers' and Lion Nathan's support of many New Zealand sporting endeavours including support for the All Black rugby team, and for the yachtsman Peter Blake, first for the Steinlager campaigns in the round-the-world yacht races, and then for Team New Zealand's successful victory in the 1995 America's Cup. Myers likened Blake to Edmund Hillary in terms of his achievement: "Peter's legacy is showing New Zealanders that they are capable of being successful internationally in complex undertakings".
By the time Myers sold his shareholding to the Japanese brewer Kirin in 1998, just prior to his 60th birthday, Lion Nathan was well established as Australasia's largest brewery and was an early pioneer in China. Myers retired as chairman in 2001.
Douglas Myers' personal philanthropy reflected his desire that New Zealanders remain connected with the rest of the world, and, among many endowments, includes scholarships for teachers from Auckland's King's College to take international study trips, and annual scholarships for New Zealanders to attend Caius College, Cambridge. He was also a major benefactor to the University of Auckland, the Kenneth Myers Centre for creative arts, and in the establishment of the Auckland Business School. Myers relocated to London in 2002, returning each summer to the family's farm at Matauri Bay in New Zealand's far north.
His family, his friends, his ongoing investments around the world, his history books and his deep interest in public policy remained his lifelong passions. Since retiring from Lion, he built a successful portfolio of business investments in such diverse activities as electricity metering, clinical research organisations, and music publishing. A love of fishing and his distress at the failings of the inshore fishing regime in New Zealand inspired him to co-sponsor with the Aotearoa Foundation a three part study of that regime to identify potential improvements. The second report will be released shortly. Characteristically, he was engaged with the study to the end.
Knighted in 2010 for services to business and the community, Sir Douglas 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.
He is survived by his wife Barbara, this three children, Jessica, Laura and Campbell, and his grandchildren.
- Paul Goldsmith co-wrote the book "The Myers" which was published in 2004. It is a historical record of the history of the Myers Family to that time.