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Michael Hill International founder defends daughter's appointment to shareholders

A New Zealand businessman has shed tears at a shareholder meeting as he defended the appointment of his daughter to chairman of the jewellery company he founded.

Michael Hill International addressed shareholders at its annual meeting in Auckland last week, the first time since the business transitioned from the first to second generation of the family.

When a shareholder raised concerns about the chairmanship remaining in the family, founder Michael Hill stated: "It's important to keep the company going as a family business so it's not just a clinical, big business without romance and soul."

His daughter, Emma Hill, has been chairman of the family business since November.

Michael Hill International launched in 1979, with one shop opened in Whangarei, a small city of just 54,000 people, but today has 300 stores across Australia, New Zealand and North America.

The jewellery business, which is now headquartered in Australia, last year had revenues of AU$505.6 million. The Hill family owns 53% of shares.

An independent director on the board defended the appointment of Emma Hill, pointing to the competitive value of family-led brands as one reason why she made a suitable candidate.

“Effectively the independent directors on the board wanted continuity of that family founder profile which is a powerful asset compared to companies that do not have that,” the director said.

Michael Hill will take on the newly created position of founder president.

In other changes, the non-family chief executive of the business has stepped down from the board due to a review of governance within the company.

"If the chief executive is also a director, there is an implicit element of self-review which the board has concluded should be avoided," Hill told shareholders.

She added that the company aimed to become a global brand with 1,000 stores worldwide.

Emma Hill added that the company was learning a lot from its 10 stores in the US that were currently operating at a loss. In particular, she said the jewellery business was learning the importance of building a strong brand that is differentiated from the competition.

Hill has worked in the business for 30 years, starting as a teenager working the shop floor in Whangarei. More recently, Hill established Michael Hill Canada, joining the board of directors in 2007. She became deputy chair in 2011.

Speaking on her appointment in August, Hill said she had always admired her father and what he had built up.


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