Sir Michael Hill KNZM
Founding Trustee, Michael Hill International Violin Competition
Few people leave school at 16 to become a concert violinist but a young Whāngarei boy named Michael Hill had big dreams. When he failed to win the coveted New Zealand Herald violin competition, his family began to ask questions.
The teenager was strongly advised to relinquish the bow and take up watch-making in the family jewellery business, owned by his uncle. While he realised pretty quickly that watch-making wasn’t for him, a watershed moment came when Michael, quite literally, watched his house on 11 acres of native New Zealand bush, which had taken two years to build, go up in flames. While instantly near penniless, he miraculously found a backer (with whom he played in a string trio) willing to put up the necessary capital for him to fulfill his brilliant idea – start his own business. “Michael Hill, Jeweller” had arrived.
That very first shop in Whangarei (northern New Zealand) was a great success and soon morphed to seven shops in seven years, then he set his sights on 70 more in the following seven years. Today the Michael Hill chain has 280 stores in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Whilst Sir Michael’s business accolades are significant – he is a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, Ernst & Young New Zealand Entrepreneur of the Year, and his private golf course was selected to host the prestigious New Zealand Open for several years, for example – it has been his deep love of the violin and art that have driven his philanthropic endeavours.
In 2001, Sir Michael had another brilliant idea. He wanted to create an opportunity for young violinists across the world to do what he didn’t – pursue a flourishing career in violin performance – and the Michael Hill International Violin Competition was born.
More than two decades on, the triennial “Michael Hill”, which attracts 18-26 year old violinists from across the world, is recognised as one of the most sought-after international violin prizes, and the careers of some of today’s classical music legends have been launched right here in New Zealand. Every competition, Sir Michael offers strong and practical advice to the young musicians on how to achieve success both in their professional and personal lives, and he sits in the audience for each and every performance.
Sir Michael met his wife Christine, Lady Hill in 1964 when she was an art teacher in Whangarei. Christine was instrumental in the design of the Michael Hill jewellery stores and all the stores feature her exclusive jewellery designs. Their creative family members have always been intertwined with the Hill family enterprise – from jewellery to music and art – and they each bring their own artistry and business sense.
Sir Michael Hill is a New Zealand household name, his achievements legendary, and he and his family’s generous contribution to the New Zealand arts and music sector will live on in his legacy long into the future.