Sam Chisholm, the New Zealand-born television executive best known for launching Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB, has died aged 78. Chisholm, a “pugnacious” figure in both the Australian and British television industries, was widely credited as one of the key figures in securing the English Premier League rights for Murdoch’s pay-TV broadcaster, a game-changing move for Sky.

Chisholm joined Sky Television as CEO in 1989 after 15 years running Kerry Packer’s Australian broadcaster Nine Network. He was responsible for merging Sky with British Satellite Broadcasting to create the pay-TV behemoth and was a terrifying figure in media circles, ruthless and always willing to sack staff. In addition to scoring the Premier League rights, he was known for his ability to strike landmark deals with the Hollywood studios over film rights.

He retired from Sky in 1997 and stayed on as a director for two years before returning to Nine Network in 2005 following a double lung transplant.

Despite his reputation, Chisholm was also considered an incredibly generous man, although this was something that he liked to keep quiet. Australian sports presenter Ben Fordham said, “Many years ago, I was collecting donations for diabetes research when I ran into him at [Nine]. He offered me A$10,000 but only if I agreed not to tell anyone about it. ‘Everyone thinks I’m a prick and I plan on keeping that reputation’.”

“In that first role [at Nine] he was always regarded as a pugnacious go-getter,” a spokesman said. “The so-called ‘starmaker’ at Nine with a big cheque book and loud opinions. Nine recognizes the unique role he played with the network and for Australian television, and sends their condolences to the extended family and friends on his passing, in particular his wife Sue and daughter Caroline. Nicknamed a legend in his own lunchtime for his lavish lifestyle at work and play — and the man who popularized the phrase ‘losers have meetings, but winners have parties’.”

He died on July 9 after a short battle with illness and is survived by his wife Sue and daughter Caroline.