Sands was a former managing director at Camerons Brewery in Hartlepool and chief executive and chairman of Pubmaster - which he turned into biggest private-tenanted pub company in Britain.
In 2006 he co-founded Wear Inns, which owns pubs across the North-East and Yorkshire, with his colleague, the late John Weir. He succeeded Jonathan Paveley as chairman of Admiral in 2014.
Sands's family said: "It is with deep regret and terrible sadness that John passed away on Monday. His wife, Susan, and four children were at his bedside at the Butterwick Hospice in Stockton. John accepted his illness with typical stoicism and strength. He will be terribly missed by his family and his many friends."
He lived in Wynyard with his wife Susan, who he married in Tynemouth in 1969. They had four children, Heather, Kevin, Kathryn and Jonathan, and there were nine grandchildren and a great grandson.
Encouraged 'thinking outside the box'
Sands's long standing operations director at Pubmaster Richard Gundry, who is now managing director of Harnser Inns based in Norfolk, said: "When I first met John I realised just how different his management style was to that of the rather old fashioned brewery MD's I was used to ! He wanted to discuss opinions, ideas, encouraged 'thinking outside the box', from all the management team, not just his executives.
"John liked pubs, he was never happier than sitting with a pint, discussing with a successful licensee how we could improve the business for both our interests.
"He was a great guy to work for, often ruthless when it was necessary, never tolerated fools or dishonesty, but gave his executive team the opportunity to manage and take the necessary decisions to succeed.
"He was an outstanding leader, a remarkable businessman, and a great friend, I will miss his advice and council, more importantly I'll miss having that pint and laughing together."
Greatly respected and admired
Simon Duckworth, managing director of Wear Inns, said: "John was a good friend and inspirational mentor to me over the ten years we worked together at Wear Inns and I greatly respected and admired both his business judgement and his personal integrity. I will miss him enormously, as will all who either worked with him or knew him personally."
Kevin Georgel, chief executive at Admiral Taverns, said: "We were extremely fortunate to have a man with John’s vast experience and wisdom as our chairman and he was instrumental in shaping and supporting the progression of the business during his time with us. I am personally indebted to John for his supportive wise counsel and his willingness to share his incredible knowledge and insight into the UK pub sector. Above all things John was a devoted family man, a very proud Geordie, a passionate Newcastle United supporter and a true champion of the British Pub. John will be greatly missed by everyone at Admiral Taverns and by all of the people whose paths he crossed during his incredibly successful and full life."
Sands's PA of 16 years, Jackie Eagling, said: "I know those who worked for him or alongside John found him to be driven and inspirational. He was respected by all for his business acumen but also for his fairness to the prosperity of everyone; he really was a true gentleman.”
Ultimate people person
His brother Peter, a former editor of The Northern Echo, said John was the ultimate people person. "His huge success in business came from a deep-rooted understanding that it was people who made a difference ... and he always put them first."
"He taught me a lot about business and about life ... and it is John I have to thank for taking me to my first Newcastle United game in 1964 and all the joy that that has entailed since. I will miss him terribly."
Sands was a lifelong Newcastle supporter - a relationship that he described as "Jekyll and Hyde". He was on the terraces when they won the Fairs Cup in 1969 and was there when they beat Barnsley to win the Championship title last season.
Sands was managing director at Camerons Inns in Hartlepool, Tollemache and Cobbold in Ipswich and Brent Walker Inns. He led a management buyout of the pub chain Pubmaster in 1996 to become chief executive and, in 2002, chairman.
The company bought Wearside brewery Vaux, Mercury Taverns, the Devonshire Pub company, Soltaire Leisure in Scotland, Heritage Inns and 1,200 Inn Partnership pubs for a £500 million deal.
Pubmaster became the biggest private-tenanted pub company in Britain with 3,200 pubs and Sands became known as Mr Pubmaster.
He chose to run the company from his native North-East, in Hartlepool. In 2002 he was named in the UK's top ten most influential people in the licenced trade industry and was voted North East Business Executive of the Year.
Sands sold Pubmaster to Punch Taverns in 2003 for £1.3 billion. The management and employees took £38 million from their 22.5pc holding.
John Robert Sands was born on October 8, 1947, in Scotswood, Newcastle. He left school in Whitley Bay at 18 and studied at Rutherford college of technology (now Northumbria University). His first job was at Dunlop where he moved into human resources and spent three years in Cheshire - the only time he lived outside of his beloved North-East.
In 1980 he was headhunted by brewers J.W. Cameron and 18 months later he was asked to join the board as tied trade director and in 1985 became MD.
In 2004 he became a non-executive director of Cumbria based brewery and pub company Jennings.
He served as chairman of GRS Inns Ltd, INVESCO English and International Trust, London Town plc and the North-East Tourism Advisory Board. He was also non-executive chairman of Admiral Taverns and education management company Piscari, director of Delphi Partnership Limited and a partner of the Community Foundation.
Sands, a keen guitarist, was also an enthusiastic supporter of charities, notably the Carrie Reay Grassroots Fund for under-privileged children on Tyneside.