Thomas was a natural leader, who shone in the classroom and on the sportsfield. A Rhodes Scholarship took him to Oxford, followed by a two-year post graduate fellowship with American General Electric, before returning to South Africa in 1929 to become assistant electrical engineer at De Beers Consolidated Mines. He went on to take senior positions at Iscor, at the Union Corporation, Escom (sic) and to successfully expand SAPPI’s operations, with an intervening wartime stint as Director of War Supplies in General Smuts’ government.