The Questionnaire: Sir Michael Hill
The name Michael Hill is synonymous with jewellery in New Zealand. It's not the only passion Sir Michael has pursued. He's a mad keen golfer and owns the iconic The Hills — once Hillbrook, but re-designed complete with sculptures. He's also a patron of the arts and sponsors the Michael Hill International Violin Competition. Interview by Mike Alexander.
What are you plugging right now?
The Michael Hill International Violin Competition, which takes place in Queenstown and Auckland in early June and brings some of the world's best young violinist to New Zealand every two years. I founded it in 2001 out of my love of playing the violin and as a chance to give young violinists opportunities to further their development, experience and careers.
What's your idea of perfect happiness?
Perfect happiness comes from within. It's got nothing to do with what you have, if you're content with yourself. Christine [his wife] and I practice transcendental meditation, which helps put everything in perspective. I am always happy living in New Zealand. We are so lucky to have been born here.
Which living person do you most admire?
There are a few people I admire for different reasons. In business, we have Rob Fyfe on the board of Michael Hill International – he's truly amazing. For simplicity of life and for having created greatness, I'd say Sir Bob Charles, the golfer. He has a wonderful life and the right priorities. As one of the world's best putters, he once told me putting was "little to do with technique and more about imagination" — you need to imagine the ball going in the hole. As soon as he told me that my putting was better than it had ever been. I've also spent some time with an amazing woman called Jing Song, from Crown Range Cellars. She's the youngest person, only woman and only Asian to win the most prestigious Pinot Noir trophy, in the U- based International Wine and Spirit Competition. These are the kinds of the people who make my life more interesting.
What's your most embarrassing moment?
I've had a few. One that springs to mind was when was I was working in my uncle's shop, Fisher's Jewellers, in Whangarei. I worked there for 23 years with my Dad and Uncle, and I was manager of the shop at the time. We had a set of six alabaster glasses with a jug. Strange looking things, no one had shown any interest in them for 18 months. Anyway, one day someone started asking questions about it, including where the sixth glass was (we didn't know it was missing). Being a keen salesman, I told her that these kinds of sets only come in decimals of 5 or 10, at which point a staff member ran out saying, "we've found the sixth glass!". I learned an important lesson that day which has stuck with me forever.
Ever stolen anything?
I would have probably been about six at the time. I was often sent to up to the Regent Shopping Centre in Whangarei with our rations, to get some cream. This particular day, I went into the sweet shop which had the most delicious acid drops. Awful things, that smelt like chloroform. I don't think they make them anymore. There was a loose one on the counter and I took it. Boy, I felt guilty. It always haunted me.
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I never think I look great – I just try and make the most of what I have. If I dress smartly, I generally get away with it. When I was younger I always thought I was too small. I tried to be bigger, in all kinds of ways, including weightlifting. All I got was varicose veins.
Which living person do you most despise and why?
I don't really despise anyone as I don't think it's our right to. I try to be neutral about everyone, except if they do me wrong.
What life lesson would you pass on to your children?
Our kids are our best friends and we try to pass our values on by doing the right thing. As a family, we work together in the jewellery business, which we are so grateful for. We have regular meetings to make sure we are all on the same page and everyone is happy.
What job would you do other than your own and why?
It has to be a concert violinist, which was the career path I was on before my parents put their foot down and guided me into the jewellery business. They were probably right. Music can often be a thankless profession and I wouldn't be sitting where I am today had I chosen the violin. But it would have been amazing. Playing a full concerto with a huge orchestra would be a hell of a buzz.
The 16 quarter-finalists selected to compete in the 2017 Michael Hill International Violin Competition are preparing for their trip to New Zealand for the ninth biennial competition in June. Round one and two of the competition takes place in Queenstown June 2-5.
- Sunday Star Times