By - Alan Farnham

(FORTUNE Magazine) – ''I've seen him lose his clothes, but never his aplomb,'' says an old pal of Hamish Maxwell, chairman of Philip Morris, referring to times when airlines have misplaced Maxwell's luggage. ''We've sailed off Turkey in a howling gale, ridden rapids in Idaho, and come within spitting distance of elephants in Africa,'' adds the friend, Warren Phillips, chairman of Dow Jones. At a time when smokers are about as popular as flies at a picnic, Maxwell retains a cool composure. ''Of course we're concerned about smoking and health and the public's perception of the issue,'' he says. ''But I have no feelings of guilt, no trouble sleeping at night. There was a time when people thought drinking was much worse a sin than smoking. Both can be abused, but each gives pleasure and has social value.'' The son of a tobacco-leaf dealer in Liverpool, Maxwell, 60, was born into the business. After serving in the RAF and studying history at Cambridge, he took a job selling tours for Thomas Cook. That brought him to New York City, where he met his wife, Georgene, called GeeGee, a receptionist at Cook. She insisted he get a better job before they married. With an introduction from his father, Maxwell approached Alfred Lyon, then head of Philip Morris. Maxwell worked in advertising and brand management for several years before being sent to Australia to head the Asia-Pacific division of PM International. Ross Millhiser, a Philip Morris director, says he was impressed by Maxwell's style: ''Hamish carries out every assignment without a lot of noise or flamboyance.'' Other directors apparently agreed. Someone meeting Maxwell might mistake his modest style for timidity or indecision. The mistake could prove costly. When Maxwell heard in 1981 that R.J. Reynolds (now RJR Nabisco) was close to acquiring Rothmans, the English cigarette maker, he boarded a plane to Johannesburg to court the company's largest shareholder. On arrival, by one account, he ''snatched the deal out of Reynolds's briefcase.'' Paid $1.3 million a year, Maxwell manages to keep a common touch. He shops for his own groceries and consumes his own products, which include Jell-O Pudding Pops, Miller beer, and Oscar Mayer bologna. He seems equally at ease chatting with plant foremen, Bianca Jagger, and orange-haired punkers at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's annual Next Wave festival, which his company sponsors. Says Philip Morris director Jane Evans: ''It's hard to emphasize how down-to-earth this guy is. He has a humanity that most CEOs lose.''