James Strong, Former Qantas Chief Executive, Dies at 68

James Strong, the former chief executive officer of Australia’s biggest carrier Qantas Airways Ltd. and former chairman of the country’s largest retailer Woolworths Ltd., died yesterday at age 68 in Sydney.

Strong died peacefully from “lung complications” after surgery, according to a family statement released by Qantas. “A beautiful man and a great loss. He will be profoundly missed by many.”

During a diverse career in which he started out as a barrister, Strong merged the state-owned Australian Airlines Ltd. and Qantas and privatized the combined group in 1995. The motor sports and mountain-climbing enthusiast was chairman of outdoor equipment retailer Kathmandu Holdings Ltd. at the time of his death and chaired the organizing committee for the 2015 Cricket World Cup and V8 Supercars auto racing series.

“James was an adventurer, a philanthropist, and a great supporter of Australian culture and sport,” Alan Joyce, Qantas chief executive officer, wrote in an e-mailed statement. “For me personally, James was a great mentor, and a great example of corporate leadership. He will be sadly missed.”

Brought up on a dairy farm in the far north of New South Wales state, Strong started officer training for the Australian military at 16 and worked in an abattoir before commencing work as a lawyer, The Power Index website reported in a June, 2012 profile.

‘Great Loss’

Strong was known for wearing a bow tie and was a patron of the arts, working as chairman of the Australia Council for the Arts and a board member of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2006 for services to business and the arts as an administrator and philanthropist.

“His loss will be felt throughout the business community in both Australia and New Zealand, and my fellow directors and I are very grateful to have had the benefit of his leadership,” John Harvey, Kathmandu’s interim chairman until the company’s annual meeting, said today in a statement.

Strong was “one of the outstanding business leaders of his generation” and led other directors in promoting gender diversity on company boards, Australian Institute of Company Directors Managing Director John Colvin wrote in an e-mailed statement. Strong was formerly chairman and national director of the body.

“He has made a massive contribution to corporate and sporting life in Australia and New Zealand,” John Harnden, chief executive of the 2015 Cricket World Cup, said in an e-mailed statement.

Strong is survived by his widow Jeanne-Claude and sons Nick and Sam.