Giving back more important than rich list: Hill

Multi-millionaire jewellery magnate Michael Hill is offering to help the Queenstown district develop its arts culture and get a modern hall venue.

Mr Hill was today ranked 34th in the list of the country's wealthiest, with $235 million, in NBR's 2008 Rich List.

However, Mr Hill, 69, who lives in Arrowtown with wife Christine, said he didn't follow the Rich List and it was of no great importance to him.

"One gets past that and focuses on goals and missions and achieving more and more in life ... in particular giving back to the community, which is a nice thing to do," he said.

"I am looking to do more of that in culture, music, Cure Kids ... supporting good causes, particularly in this community which is sadly lacking in cultural events." Mr Hill, who sponsors the Michael Hill International Violin Competition as well as the NZ Open golf championship, said he envisaged a week-long cultural festival being held in Queenstown in the future, bringing in "well heeled" tourists to see cultural events.

Before that happened the community needed a modern arts venue to hold concerts, theatre and such-like. He said he would put his support behind such a venue but "not finance it altogether" and was keen to be on the steering committee.

The council had been slow in getting it to happen, he said.

"The ultimate in life is to be able to leave something that improves and nourishes the place where you live." NBR says of Mr Hill that life gets better, with the United States market his next target. Though business had been subdued in New Zealand it was booming in Australia and Canada for Michael Hill International which comprises 210 stores — 136 in Australia, 52 in New Zealand and 22 in Canada, NBR says, noting that the company is on course for a 30 percent profit increase this year.

Mr Hill owns a private golf course, The Hills, host to the golf Open and built at a cost of $27 million at a 200ha spread overlooking Lake Hayes near Queenstown.

 Also on the Rich List is the transport and construction Southland-based Richardson family, with a worth of $120 million. HW Richardson Group turns over about $400 million annually, employs more than 1000 staff and operates about 600 trucks, NBR says.

Irish-Kiwi property tycoon Eamon Cleary, worth $2.1 billion, is third on the list. He bought vast tracts of Southland farmland in the 1990s and converted it to dairying.

Among others on the rich list were Queenstown-based sharebroker Eion Edgar, who was worth $95 million, and deer recovery and aviation legend Sir Tim Wallis of Wanaka, worth $60 million, the NBR says.

Top of the Rich List again was "the $6 billion man", former tow truck driver and now investment tycoon Graeme Hart.

The 2008 rich list has a record eight billionaires (individuals or families). Lynette Erceg's $1.4 billion fortune from liquor and property makes her the first woman to reach billionaire status in New Zealand in her own right, the NBR says.

The list has seven new entrants including National Party leader John Key, at $50 million, Queenstown investors John Davies and John Martin, 42 Below chairman Grant Baker and former All Black Greg Burgess.


The Southland Times