A family member will once again chair New Zealand's multi-billion dollar Todd Corporation following the imminent retirement of its first non-family chairman in the company's 135-year history.

Henry Tait, 54, will replace commercial lawyer Geoff Ricketts to lead the business empire, once named by Forbes magazine as New Zealand's first billion-dollar turnover company.

Ricketts, who is standing down in May next year, was appointed chairman in 2011 to replace Sir John Todd, who had held the role since 1987 and was preceded by an unbroken line of Todd family members back to the family's establishment of a wool-scouring company in 1885.

The Todd empire now owns extensive New Zealand and overseas oil and gas assets, substantial commercial property and real estate, and a telecommunications and data business, as well as interests in two very large offshore prospects: an iron ore development opportunity in the West Australian Pilbara region and a methanol production plant project near New Orleans, in the US state of Louisiana.

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The increasing involvement at Todd of non-family executives and board members drew a waspish attack earlier this year from former Todd Energy chief executive Richard Tweedie, who said in an interview with National Business Review that the corporation's founding chairman, Sir Bryan Todd, would be "turning in his grave" and "would never have passed governance to a bunch of outsiders."

Four of the nine current directors on the Todd board are family representatives, including deputy chairman Mike Todd, who has been on the board since 1996.

A fifth-generation family member, Tait joined the Todd Corp board in 1997 after a career in investment banking with New Zealand firm Fay Richwhite and then CS First Boston in Australia before starting his own range of business interests. Educated at Eton College and Oxford University in the UK, Tait was publicly tipped as a replacement for Sir John Todd as long ago as 2006. He is the grandson of Sir Bryan Todd, who established Todd Energy - the foundation of the family's current wealth - and son of Todd Motors director, the late Admiral Sir Gordon Tait and Philippa Todd.

He has chaired various internal councils for the publicity-shy Todd family, who are thought to number in the several hundreds and remain bound into the business through a carefully managed process that seeks to prepare each generation to perpetuate the family's successful wealth generation to date.