New Zealand entrepreneur: Michael Hill

Michael Hill - the man behind the global jewellery empire – is one of New Zealand’s most successful businessmen, credited with revolutionising retail selling in Australasia.

Michael Hill - the man behind the global jewellery empire - is one of New Zealand’s most successful businessmen, credited with revolutionising retail selling in Australasia.

From the time he opened his first shop in Whangarei in the north of New Zealand’s North Island in 1979, Michael Hill’s jewellery business grew rapidly, developing into an empire that now spans four countries.

Today he’s a household name in New Zealand and, in addition to his business achievements, has become a best-selling author, raconteur, accomplished violinist and passionate golfer with his own internationally-rated course.

Winning formula

When Michael Hill launched his first business, his aim was to make jewellery affordable to the average New Zealander.

Hill opened his first store in Whangarei with wife Christine, after working in his uncle’s shop up the road for 23 years. Within eight years of opening the store, his revolutionary sales techniques had spread throughout Australasia.

The winning formula included dramatically different store designs, a product range devoted exclusively to jewellery and high impact television advertising.

The company also received several international awards for window-dressing from renowned brands like Bulova, Olympic and Omega.

When Michael Hill Jewellery listed on the stock exchange in 1987, it had 10 stores, including one in Brisbane. The expansion into Australia was even more rapid - with Hill opening four stores in just four weeks.

Michael Hill watches

In 2006 after a five year trial, the Michael Hill Watch Collection was launched and the company began phasing out selling most other brands. By mid 2008 only Michael Hill brand watches were available in the company’s stores.

The business says the Michael Hill watch has been one of the company’s key brand developments and remains one of the best watches in the world.

Currently the Michael Hill Jeweller chain has 250 stores in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States and aims to have 1000 stores by 2024.

Arts, golf and honours

In 2001 Hill’s achievements were recognised when he received the Companion New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM).

In the same year his lifelong passion for the arts, particularly the violin, led to the establishment of the Michael Hill International Violin Competition, a biennial event for emerging young violinists from all over the world.

The Hills - Michael Hill’s private golf course - was carved from a former deer farm near Arrowtown, Queenstown. It was selected in 2007 to host the prestigious New Zealand Open for three years.

In 2008 The Hills club house, an innovative underground bunker-style building, was named supreme award winner in the New Zealand Architectural Awards.

During 2008 Hill was named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, and represented New Zealand in Monte Carlo competing against leading entrepreneurs from 50 countries in the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

He was also inducted into the World Entrepreneur of the Year Hall of Fame, and in the same year was chosen as NZ Herald Business Leader of the Year.

Inspirational speaker

Michael Hill has become an motivational speaker with a strong and practical message on how to achieve success in business and personal life.

Through his book Toughen up - what I've Learned about surviving tough times, Hill shares the secret of his success - set your goals, visualise, work hard, be disciplined, meditate ... and go to bed early!

His philosophy is - "by sticking to the basics, the whole organisation is concentrating on the same goal: everyone is aiming at the bullseye."

Michael Hill on New Zealand

Where is your favourite NZ destination, and why?

That’s difficult as we have such a variety of beauty here. I guess diving at the Poor Knights Island off Tutakaka is a real blast but so is the white baiting on the remote West Coast of the South Island. I guess we are spoilt for choice.

Do you draw any inspiration for your jewellery from NZ?

Yes, Christine my wife has developed a range of silver and gold jewellery based on the worn shells, totorere. You find these on the beaches of Northland worn away until they form a ring shape that girl guides slip on their scarves. Her beautiful collection will be on sale shortly in all our stores.

Where in New Zealand do you go to relax and escape?

I’m very fortunate to have a motor yacht called vvs1. What a wonderful way to explore our coastline and relax.

Where would you whisk your wife away to for a romantic weekend?

Walk and kayak the Abel Tasman [in the north of the South Island].

Why do you think international visitors choose to holiday in NZ?

Tell me a better place on this planet, a virgin country with extremely friendly people, the last pure paradise there is.