91 | Michael Hill - Greatest Kiwi of All Time 2023
GKOAT 23
GKOAT 23

91 | Michael Hill - Greatest Kiwi of All Time 2023

Greatest Kiwi Of All Time: No. 91 - Michael Hill (New entry)

Whangarei, Saturday 1st October 1977.  Michael Hill and his wife Christine are on their way home from dinner at a local bistro and, over a ham steak and prawn cocktail, they’ve been talking about the future.  Michael’s been working at his uncle’s store Fishers The Jewellers for the last 15 years and he is frustrated he hasn’t been able to convince his uncle to sell him the iconic local shop.  Michael’s been managing Fishers of late and business has been booming.

The Hill’s are shocked as they round the corner into their leafy Onerahi street.  The road is closed off by fire trucks and, in the distance, Michael can see a house fully engulfed in flames.  It’s their house.  Michael and Christine had taken four years to build it and, now, it’s been completely destroyed.  At that moment, with all his possessions up in smoke, Michael knew he had to re-assess his life.

Michael Hill was born in Whangarei a year prior to the outbreak of World War 2.  He attended Whangarei Boys High School but left at age 16 to pursue his dream of being a concert violinist.  After being told he needed to have started younger if he wanted to be a “decent musician”, he started working for his uncle Arthur Fisher in his local jewellery shop.

Hill would be a flamboyant jeweller.  He won international awards for his window dressing and brought new publicity to Fishers with his unusually creative newspaper and radio advertising.

After the fire that destroyed his family home, Hill opened his own jewellery shop a few doors down from his uncle’s but, unlike Fishers and other stores of its day, Michael Hill Jeweller focused solely on jewellery, dispensing with silverware, clocks and glassware common for the time.  He also became known for enormous window displays which took up much of the store’s frontage, again a first in the early 1980s.

Also unlike his Uncle Arthur, Michael Hill had dreams far beyond one jewellery shop.  His plan was seven stores in seven years and by the mid-80s, the economy now flush with money, he achieved that goal.  Of course, we all remember the ads…

In 1987 Michael Hill would list on the stock exchange, opening 70 shops in the next seven-year period including stores in Australia.  By 2022 there’d be more than 300 Michael Hill Jewellery stores including some in Canada.

Michael Hill continues to support two of his closest passions - violin and golf.  Hill founded an international competition for young violinists in 2001, and The Hills golf course, sculpted by Hill out of a run-down farm near Arrowtown, has hosted the NZ Open a number of times.

Entrepreneur.  Philanthropist.  Jeweller.  Sir Michael Hill, one of Today FM’s Greatest Kiwis of All Time.