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Family

Michael Hill and daughter Emma's special bond

The dad and daughter share the Midas touch

By Hayley McLarin
Outside the gate of Sir Michael Hill's Queenstown property is a sign selling pony poo for $3 a bag.
And if you play golf at The Hills, his nearby course, you can buy back the balls you lost on your last round for $2 each.
These are just two of the ways his 11-year-old twin grandkids Jacob and Chloe Jacques earn money and learn a strong work ethic – an important life lesson from the Kiwi business icon.
"There are a lot of people who give children a free rein with the things they never had," tells Michael, sitting beside his daughter Emma on the couch.
"But it's actually bringing them up to never have any appreciation for the true worth of not only money but of achieving.
"It's good for children to learn to fend for themselves. Christine and I made Emma save money and get a job to support herself, and she makes her children save too so they have a sense of values and purpose."
Emma is grateful for the good financial habits her parents instilled.
"I have two gorgeous children and one of my primary goals is to ensure I give them the best start in life," she enthuses.
"I have always saved rather than spent and they earn their own pocket money – they like watching their bank account grow."
They shovel poo, scour the golf course in all weather and have even busked as they are skilled violin players.
"I've set them up with three jars – a savings jar, a spend jar and a charity jar, and they allocate their money," tells Emma.
Open for business! The first-ever Michael Hill store in Whangarei, 1979.
Forty years after her parents opened the first Michael Hill Jeweller store in Whangarei when she was just seven, Emma still recalls polishing the glass cabinets so earnestly that she didn't realise the shop had closed for the day.
By the time she was the age her twins are now, she was working at the store after school and at weekends, and diligently saving money.
"My childhood was lovely," gushes Emma.
"Michael has always had a really good work-life balance. Most weekends we'd be out in the dinghy netting flounder or catching fish in Whangarei Harbour. We spent a lot of time outdoors as a family together.
"We lived on 10 acres of native bush and had possums. They were a pest, so Dad would put a cage out with an apple in it. I used to feel sorry for them, so I'd get up before anyone else was awake and let the possum out."
Michael laughs out loud, "I never knew that!"
Carefree days in Whangarei, 1973
It's surprising they have any secrets, spending decades together living and breathing the gem business.
Michael stepped down in 2015 and Emma now runs Michael Hill, as chair of the international board. But Michael and Christine are still immersed in the dynasty, designing jewellery sold in more than 300 stores in New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
"Even at high school, I could see the fun Mum and Dad were having and wanted to be part of that. You used to do really eye-catching displays," she reminds her father.
"You were doing a summer campaign and you filled the window with Coke cans. We never really got treats as kids, so afterwards [brother] Mark and I were able to drink all the Coke. We had a chicken hutch and put the baby chicks in the window with the caption 'Just hatched.' It got so much attention.
"I've had stages when I have not worked in the business and missed it terribly. I'm at my happiest, and I know Michael certainly is, when we have lots on the go and we're working hard towards a goal. It's the journey and the challenge, that's where the fun comes from in life."
Emma was 16 when her parents moved to Brisbane, listed the business on the NZ Stock Exchange and started stretching their network of trailblazing stores throughout Australia.
She worked late nights, weekends and holidays at Michael Hill, as well as waitressing at the Sheraton to fund herself through Brisbane University. Towards the end of a year-long OE travelling through Europe while living and working in London, home beckoned.
"I really wanted to be part of the business, to be a manager in training, so I spent a couple of years working under different managers and managed a range of Michael Hill stores," says Emma.
She then attended Bond University in Australia to achieve her MBA, and graduated with distinction, at the top of her year. Emma worked in advertising in Sydney to get insight into other organisations.
"I loved being in Sydney, in my late 20s, but I really missed the business. So I came back and helped evaluate where we should expand to next."
Groomed for success: "Emma has the Hill tenacity, drive and spirit," says a proud Michael.
Canada had a similar population, size and culture to Australia, so Emma moved to Vancouver, opening their first Canadian store in October 2002.
"I was used to the bigger openings back home, where people would sleep outside to be first in store," recalls Emma.
"When we launched in Canada, we didn't make our first sale until 11 o'clock. I called Michael that night and he said, 'Persevere, you will get it right.'
"One of Dad's great skills is seeing the big picture and not getting caught in the detail – that can derail you. Seeing things as if you are in a helicopter looking down – keeping perspective. It's about never giving up and having an incredibly positive attitude that things can be done."
Michael dispels any suggestion of nepotism, saying, "Emma has the Hill tenacity, drive and spirit. She's extraordinarily organised, leans into challenges and gets things done. I don't know anyone more determined and focused than her. Christine and I feel incredibly fortunate she shares our love of the business."
"I'm really proud of how active Michael is. I hope I'm doing the same at your age," says Emma, patting pony Archie.
Emma, now 47, moved home to raise her kids, and juggled motherhood and a successful globe-trotting career.
"I was a single mum for a long time," tells Emma.
"I take my hat off to single working mums – you are continually ensuring the kids' wellbeing, plus being the provider and turning up to work every day.
"I am fortunate I have home help when I have to be away. I'm lucky to be living with Mum and Dad close by – that makes me feel better about leaving the kids, knowing they are with the family. And I'm lucky I have a supportive partner, Pete, who helps out enormously."
Dad and daughter with Christine and pup Sneaker.
Emma says Christine is also a huge support and mentor to her.
"Mum has incredible common sense. She is able to cut through and see things at the heart of what the issue is, and see it in a matter-of-fact way. I call her for guidance and I value her perspective – it's quite different to Dad's."
While Emma and Michael can't stop talking shop, even at family gatherings, they also share a love of the outdoors.
On a recent family holiday, they both went paddle- boarding, and for her father's 80th birthday, Emma bought Michael a carbon fibre mountain bike. She likes to run the perimeter of Lake Hayes where he kayaks the 8km length several days a week.
"The whole family cares about health and wellbeing, and being in nature," shares Emma.
"That's what we do. I'm really proud of how active Michael is. I hope I'm doing the same at your age.
"We've just had the whole family – three generations – on holiday together; that was really cool. We had my brother Mark, his wife Monika, their kids Oliver and Nathan, my kids and Mum and Dad. It was lovely."
The family all cooked, talked about their goals for the future and how they were going to achieve them, says Michael.
"I talk business with Emma, and with Mark it is food, fishing and art. Mark is creative. Emma is more business-attuned. It is quite
a good mix.
"I like cooking – I put olive oil on everything. I enjoy eating – nothing deep-fried. I'm trying to lay off red meat now and have cut out sugar. I find I have more energy.
"You have to look after your health and wellbeing. Without it, you have nothing."

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