Communications Minister Amy Adams says 2degrees chief executive Eric Hertz was instrumental in shaking up New Zealand's telecommunications industry.
Mr Hertz and his wife Kathy are presumed dead after their twin-engine aircraft crashed off the Waikato coast on Saturday while they were flying from Ardmore to Timaru.
Searchers have found wreckage from the plane 20km from the entrance to Kawhia Harbour. Police on Sunday said they are treating the search as a recovery mission, not a rescue.
Ms Adams says 2degrees has brought a competitive streak to the telco sector and Mr Hertz was a central figure in the network's creation and growth.
The minister says Mr Hertz was well-respected in the industry and her thoughts are with his family.
"He's one of the real gentlemen in the sector - he's always been a very pleasant, easy-going man to get along with. I know he's very well respected by the team at 2degrees and he's been an absolutely central figure in (its) creation and growth."
2degrees says it is shocked and deeply saddened by the death of its chief executive, describing him as an honorary kiwi who was respected by all staff members.
2degrees director of corporate affairs Mat Bolland says staff will miss Mr Hertz, an American who had recently been granted New Zealand residency.
He says Mr Hertz was an experienced pilot and owned two planes.
Mr Bolland says the chairman of 2degrees is on his way to New Zealand from the United States to deal with the company's business.
He says staff are with the couple's daughter who is in New Zealand.
Mr Bolland says it will be a sad day in the office when staff return on Tuesday.
Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Paul Brislen says Eric Hertz had decades of experience and can be credited with the company's success in New Zealand which launched in 2009.
Mr Brislen said Mr Hertz led massive changes at 2degrees, including data sharing between devices, and it is a huge loss to the industry.
"They really did go out of their way to make the plans as simple and easy to understand as possible - and the customers reacted accordingly.
"A lot of that was off the back of Eric driving the business in that direction, and I think we've got a lot to be grateful for."
Mr Brislen said he had a genuine warmth and humour, was relaxed even in highly-charged situations and will be missed.