Q&A: Emma Hill


From the age of 7, Emma Hill has been involved with the family jewellery business. Since then she’s worked on the shop floor, established Michael Hill Canada and been deputy chairwoman of the company. Now she’s getting ready to take off her “training wheels” and step into her father’s shoes to become chairwoman in November.

Where’s home for you? 
Arrowtown — on a farm adjoining The Hills golf course.

How old were you when you first started working at Michael Hill? 
I was 7 when the Whangarei store opened and spent much of my childhood helping out in the weekends and holidays. I received my first pay cheque when I was 13.

What roles have you had in the company? 
I started on the shop floor and worked my way up. I established Michael Hill Canada in 2002 as the general manager and lived in Vancouver for five years. Opening in a new country was incredibly challenging and an enormous amount of fun.

When you first started out did you ever imagine that one day you would be running the company? 
When we started out we just had one store, we now have 300 and our hearts set on 1000. I lived in London for a year after finishing university; it was then that I wrote down my 20-year goal — to establish Michael Hill in its third country and to one day be chair. I think it’s important to note that we have a great executive team with over 160 years’ Michael Hill experience between them. It’s our CEO, Mike Parsell, that runs the company on a day-to-day basis.

How much of a change is it going to be for you going from deputy chairwoman to chairwoman? 
I’ve had my training wheels on for a while now so it should be a smooth transition.

What are you most excited about in your transition to chairwoman? 
Taking our business from 300 to 1000 stores and becoming a global brand. We have an incredibly strong foundation to grow from; we have come a long way, and have learnt so much, but in many ways I feel like we are just getting started. We are opening our second store in New York next month; in a couple of years we will have close to 100 stores in Canada, and we are busy expanding the trial of our Emma and Roe boutiques in Australia.

What is Sir Michael going to do once he retires?
He isn’t retiring, he’s handing the chair to me; he will remain on the board. Michael, as founder, is incredibly passionate about the business and will continue to help drive it forward and ensure we create jewellery our customers love. He recently designed a stunning new diamond bridal range called the Sir Michael Hill Designer Bridal Collection. It’s selling really well throughout America and Canada — it will be in New Zealand stores by Christmas. Michael is very creative and wants to spend more time designing.

As chairwoman, how often do you think you’ll talk to him? 
We tend to talk daily.

If you weren’t in the jewellery industry, what do you think you would be doing? 
Jewellery runs deep in my veins, I’m fifth generation — my great-great-grandfather was a Swiss watchmaker. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Should more women head listed companies? If so, what can they do to get there? 
The world would be a better place if there were more women running it. I’ve always found people very willing to help by opening doors, offering advice and support — you just have to ask. Set a 20-year goal, write it down, never give up, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

What’s the most rewarding part about working for a family business? And the biggest challenge —jewellery talk over dinner? 
With family business comes a deep level of care. It’s very important to me, which makes it incredibly rewarding — and also incredibly challenging. When business and family are intertwined you can’t escape. I’ve recently bought a caravan — 24 hours up the Matukituki off the grid will be lovely!