New Zealand has produced a number of entrepreneurs who have built business empires out of nothing, created great wealth for themselves, employees and shareholders and have revolutionised business activity in New Zealand. 

                                This report  discusses the upbringings, behavioural characteristics  and business development facets of three prominent and successful New Zealand entrepreneurs.

                              Finally in the conclusion, common trends relating to the three entrepreneurs are discussed.



                              Three prominent examples of New Zealand entrepreneurs will now be examined to look at their upbringings, their introduction to business activity, their entrepreneurial characteristics and abilities which have made them successful businessmen and enabled them to create successful business empires. 

                                These are:

**   Ron Brierley

**   Michael Fay

**   Michael Hill



                          R.A. Brierley was born on 2 August 1937 in Wellington.   His parents were middle class and not wealthy. 

                                He attended Wellington College where he was no great scholar but despite this showed early signs of a penchant for business .   His first venture into business was while he was at the College when he became a registered member of the New Stamp Dealers Federation and sold stamps all around the school including to the teacher who ran the stamp club. 

                                In doing so he was already displaying business skills and entrepreneurship characteristics, particularly so in the following aspects:

**    he had no qualms about dealing with adults at a young age.

**   later on in his business career he would have no qualms about which companies or government agencies he dealt with.

**   he was very businesslike and assiduous in protecting his own interest e.g. if any of the pupils fell behind with payments he would type out reminder notices and issue then to the pupil’s parents. 

                                In the mid 50s Brierley took on a position as a clerk at the Sun Alliance Company Ltd and studied accountancy part-time, but soon dropped out of this, at Wellington University. 

                                It was during that period that he first found out about the sharemarket and he started buying shares.    Business and entrepreneurial skills he immediately displayed in doing so were:

**    he thoroughly researched companies before buying the shares.

**   he was also forward thinking before making purchases- looking into likely future takeovers and business prospects before making share purchases. 

                                Brierley formed his first investment company, Investment Funds New Zealand Ltd, in 1959 and started a sharemarket tip sheet “New Zealand Stocks and Shares” in November 1956.   To get started:

**    he advertised the magazine before he produced it and gained some subscription capital to start up.

**   he posted the magazine to every public company in New Zealand without asking them and then charged them- most of them paid up.

**    he made the tips himself.

**    he asserted that he was an international and very successful share market analyst and tipster (not entirely true) to gain business. 

                                Although the tipsheet would not make a lot of money for Brierley it gave him  the opportunity to study the New Zealand sharemarket over a period of time .     He enjoyed producing it, but he was of a nature that he more preferred being an active player himself in the sharemarket. 

                                Brierley looked around the New Zealand sharemarket and saw that there were many opportunities for making gains, particularly where:

**   underlying  value of assets was not represented by share price.

**   the business was not being run in an efficient manner and with more proficient expertise the values of companies could be increased.

** opportunities where companies could be stripped of under-performing divisions or assets and that remaining assets could be regenerated  (as such he became known as an asset stripper). 

                                Brierley was just 23 when he made an unsuccessful attempt to get on the Hallenstein board. 

                                Brierley formed R.A. Brierley Investments Ltd  (BIL) in 1961 with no capital.   He aimed to finance initial activity purely with shareholding capital.   He had little response, despite grandiose advertising claims for a company with no track record that the company was run by a prominent and successful investor and investment returns were likely to much higher than other available returns of the day, but didn’t give up (a further entrepreneurial characteristic) and continued advertising until he had sufficient seed capital to undertake investments.   The objects of the company very much summed up Brierley’s aspirations and formula to create wealth:

**   to take over or acquire substantial holdings in New Zealand and Australian companies with a view to ultimate participation in management  and the re-organisation of their finances.

**   investment in companies and industries where it is believed that rationalisation and mergers are inevitable in the normal course of events.

**   participation in selected private companies which are currently successful but unable to expand and expertise and capital input will increase the value of these companies.

**   to form a property company to deal in property and maximise wealth creation in this sector.

**   to trade in Stock Exchange shares with a view to short and medium term appreciation. 

                                The initial business success was limited, but Brierley worked very hard towards his business vision, being the sole investment worker and doing the books of the company for a number of years even into the 1970s.   Brierley’s strength in building up the investment portfolio was the research he put into prospective investments to reach a conclusion that their assets were worth more than their sharemarket price and to exploit that to the advantage of  BIL in the most effective way. 

                                BIL moved into Australia in 1964 with the purchase of a holding in Industrial Equity Ltd which subsequently became BIL’s investment vehicle in Australia. 

                                Brierley was very intelligent and one “to think out of the square” and exploit available loopholes.   For example, in 1968, the government introduced a bill that would prevent public companies from raising funds through offers of unsecured deposit notes.    By this time Brierley had built up a favourable business reputation and was synonymous with his company, so he overcame this law by raising money as an individual. 

                                The 60s saw BIL struggling to survive, but the 70s saw growth and the 80s growth and consolidation.   By 1981 BIL joined the list of the 20 largest companies in New Zealand by market capitalisation and in 1984 was the largest company in New Zealand by market capitalisation.   By this time the company also had investments in USA, UK and Asia and was a dominant shareholder in many blue chip companies, including Air NZ Ltd, Ansett NZ Ltd , Whitcoulls  Ltd and Magnum Corporation Ltd. 

                                Brierley became founder president of the company in 1990 and withdrew from direct involvement.   Since then he has taken a controlling interest in Guinness Peat Ltd, an investment company based in London, but active also in Australia and Asia, and listed in all three countries. 

                                In summary,   the entrepreneurial qualities displayed by Ron Brierley were:

**   total commitment to the task at hand.

**   ability to recognise business opportunities and in particular when a business is undervalued and has potential to make profit out of.

**   thorough research before making a business decision.

**   taking risks but with positive judgement.

**   an excitement for the work.

**   an astute business mind.

**   not afraid of long hours of work.

**   the ability to work by himself, bur also to take business advice when appropriate. 

                                The activities of Ron Brierley brought a more aggressive attitude to New Zealand business and took it out of the “fortress regulated” mentality.   He showed that an individual can build an empire through hard work and astute judgement.



                                Fay Richwhite is a prominent merchant banking business.   Its business product is money and it acts by getting people to invest and to lend to it to pass this on to third parties, from which it extracts fees.    By dealing in large amounts Fay Richwhite has turned the small transactional percentage margins into millions of dollars. 

                            The business started from scratch between Michael Fay and partner David Richwhite.   They had no inherited money and did it all by themselves. 

                                Michael Fay was born in Auckland in 1949 and during his college years he boarded at St Patricks, Silverstream.   A childhood accident meant that he could not play contact sport,  the normal manner  that boys at St Patricks gained esteem in .   However during his childhood days and the period  at St Patricks he showed skills required by a  future business leader as follows:

**   he took to public speaking and showed an ability to think harder and faster than others and back up his words by demonstration and project confidence, intelligence and charm in doing so.

**   an ability to delegate- even in his own household he was skilled at ensuing jobs were done, and obtaining the help of others to get them done.

**   focusing on one issue at a time, and to succeed, in one way or another, in achieving whatever he set his sights on.   He mostly got what he wanted, not through being spoilt, but through a mixture of natural ability and tenacity.

**   a loyalty to his family- he helped his family out a lot.

**   organisational ability-   he had a whiteboard and would write down the family tasks every day.

**   ability in assessing financial deals-   he could look at financial deals to ascertain their strengths and weaknesses.

**   an element of brashness and arrogance.

**   the ability to deal with adults at an early age.

**   a sophisticated aura.

**   a quickness to escape the authoritarian aspect of  St Patricks College  e.g. sneaking out to drink at hotels, for car rides etc-   risk taking appealed to his nature and got his adrenalin going.

**   the ability to supervise other school pupils during study periods and in other roles.

**  an authorative but reasonable manner.

**   self assurance.

**   leadership qualities.

**   an ability to network to build up contacts.

**   a self decision maker-  realisation that you had to act in this manner to succeed.

**   an appreciation that a job had to be carried out in a thorough manner.

**  a like of a challenge.

**   set goals for himself and had a huge amount of determination to succeed.

**   a stubbornness-  once he was on the track of something it was very hard to move him off it.

**   hard worker.

**   acted on gut feeling- if he felt it was right, he did it.

**   liked a challenge. 

                                His demeanour and mana at St Patricks College led him to be appointed to be a prefect.   During his period as a boarder there he had contact with and largely  mixed with a number of pupils in the higher socio-economic class who were also boarders, and this also was to have future influences in his business development. 

                                Fay studied law at Victoria University, Wellington and assisted in organising capping stunts.    He qualified at the end of 1971 and obtained work as a law clerk in a law office in Wellington. 

                                He quickly decided that this was not to his liking and headed back to Auckland and took up a position in 1972 with Securitibank, merchant bankers, along with David Richwhite.   This position wasn’t to last long either, his brash attitude leading him into a dispute with the Company Secretary there and he left. 

                                He had however decided that merchant banking was to be his niche in life and by running his own business and acting by certain business principles and bringing in certain innovations there was a lot of money to be made in it.  Fay also found that risks had to be taken to make this money, but this appealed to his nature, and making business deals gave him the adrenalin and business satisfaction that he desired.   David Richwhite followed soon to work with him. 

                                Right from the start of the business Fay and Richwhite decided that their main niche market, and where the real money was to be made,  was dealing with the affluent, rich and major companies, a throw back to his St Patricks College days.   They were proactive in looking for business  from these type clients.   They would, for example, look for the affluent of Auckland by sighting expensive cars, noting the registration plates, checking back through motor registrations for a name and address, and then devising deals to tempt the target.  Fay and Richwhite became members of the Ellerslie Racing Club, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and the Polo club so that they could associate with  potential clients in this group , and went to the right social functions to meet potential affluent clients,

                             Around the time that the business started there was interest in what was regarded as the newer in-vogue industries, such as bloodstock, horticulture, goats , deer and motion pictures.   Fay Richwhite were innovative in arranging deals for clients which were among the first in these industries, particularly with a tax relief benefit  which had a particular appeal to its clients. 

                                Fay and Richwhite developed further standards in their business that would appeal to the affluent, as follows:  

**   packaging themselves as upper socio-economic.

**   looked and acted like high worth individuals.

**   marketed themselves as young men with bold ideas.

**   never lacked confidence in their own abilities.

**   established a culture and image in their business that mirrored their own behavioural aspects.

**   had an aggressive approach to business.

**   thorough organisation and planning.

**   the introduction of innovative products, such as in the area of tax minimisation.

**   the development of financial products which would suit both borrowers and lenders

**   very attractive offices and fittings.

**   employing highly motivated and qualified staff.

**   paying staff high pay if the effort is put in.

**   insisting staff work long hours for the betterment of the client, the company and themselves.

**   by being associated with other prominent business institutions e.g. Fay was on the board of the Bank of New Zealand and chaired projects like New Zealand Expo.

**   a stated goal to be the best investment bankers in New Zealand. 

                                Fay and Richwhite have always been quick to recognise future money making opportunities.   For example, Fay himself became heavily involved in property dealing in the 1970s and 1980s.    His philosophy was to borrow the full purchase price of a flat that was under-let, add an extra flat on, get the income up and sell it for a handsome capital gain.   When Muldoon regulated interest rates in the 1980s, they had the vision to predict such an event, and had purchased large parcels of government stock with higher interest rates, which they then on-sold with handsome gains.  

                                Fay and Richwhite  also had the vision to realise that providing  sponsorship of a national sporting event, particularly in a sport which attracted the  type of client which they had decided to target would greatly benefit their business.    Involvement in and funding New Zealand’s  America Cup yachting campaign gave them public exposure, and assisted greatly in attracting business and increasing profitability.    They also sponsored prominent horse races at Ellerslie Racecourse. 

                                In 1989, for example, the profit of Fay Richwhite was $52million, a handsome return to Fay and Richwhite as joint owners.    In the same year they entered into their biggest deal yet, buying a 29.5% stake in the Bank of New Zealand.    Fay Richwhite later assisted in the deal in which Bell Atlantic and Ameritech purchased a share in Telecom,   and the  privatisation of state assets programme carried out by government in the 1990s gave them further business opportunities.

                                Fay Richwhite listed on the New Zealand Stock exchange through Capital Markets but subsequently brought back the shareholding to once again retain private ownership during the 1990s.

                                In later years, Fay Richwhite opened offices in Australia and in the United Kingdom, and are currently working overseas in Ireland.


                                Michael Hill grew up in Whangarei.    His family did not have a lot of money.  He attended Whangarei Boys High  and was not a great scholar, only gaining School Certificate at the second attempt.

                                One thing he was rather good at and enjoyed was the game of Monopoly, which taught him a lot about business strategy, and in particular with regard to buying retail space in the right positions.               

                               He also took a liking to music and left school with the intention of becoming a concert violinist.   This didn’t work out so his Uncle offered him a job at his  watch-making and jewellery store, Fishers, where Michael’s father also worked.    Michael didn’t  show any skill at repairing watches so was put in a position looking after the counter and  shop-front. 

                                Hill quickly came to the conclusion that most jeweller’s shops at the time were run by craftsmen who preferred to work out the back and had no interest in customer relations or sales techniques and realised that opportunities would present themselves if these aspects could be improved.  He discovered that he enjoyed meeting people and was in fact quite good at selling.   He took an interest in the way the store looked and how the stock was presented, and he took a particular interest in window displays that would attract customers into the store.    So much so that he won 2 awards for windows displays in competitions associated with the Whangarei A & P show and later won a trip around the world in a competition organised by Bulova watches for the world’s best window displayfeaturing their product.   And he also showed a skill in the arranging and presentation of newspaper and radio advertising.    He was particular about getting god spots and positions for the advertising undertaken and he was responsible for some zany ads which really stood out.   These efforts attracted great attention, established the jewellery store and its name, and publicised its promotions. 

                                All these early skills were to be carried through and serve Hill well later in his own business. 

                                Hill married and built a house at Waikaraka in Whangarei, assisting with the building process as much as he could to save costs and becoming heavily mortgaged to achieve this, but soon after completion the house was burnt down in a fire.    He was completely under-insured and was left with few material possessions   . He was aged forty at the time. 

                                The night of the fire he displayed another of his entrepreneurial skills in concluding that he had to refocus his life.   He made a commitment to himself.   He wrote down on a piece of paper that he wanted to own his Uncle’s business and, if he wouldn’t sell, he would leave and open his own store. 

                                His uncle wouldn’t sell him the Fishers business  at any cost (there was some family friction) so Hill left Fishers.   He carried on with his plan to establish his own store, and purchased a prime site in Whangarei, paying the highest key money in Whangarei for the time for an incentive for the previous lessee to relocate.   Within two weeks of leaving Fishers , on 13 May 1979, he opened the  store fully stocked.   He called the store Michael Hill Jeweller and this was the first in the chain of Michael Hill Jeweller stores as they are today. 

                                Hill remarks that he hasn’t had a worry from the time he left Fishers.    When he was at Fishers he was always worried about what his uncle thought,  so that every decision he made was never quite his own..    But now he was in a situation that he could do whatever he wanted to do, a situation he thrived in.    He had an imaginative trait and a desire to succeed, the latter as a consequence of the house fire. 

                                Michael Hill Jeweller opened with innovative ideas.   They only sold jewellery, whereas many other jewellery stores were also selling china.   It also broke away from the tradition of having a private viewing room for customers to select an expensive purchase or an engagement ring.    It opened up the buying process so that selections were made in the store in front of everybody and in a casual manner, not the formal and stiff atmosphere associated with jewellery shops.   The philosophy of Michael Hill was to make jewellery less intimidating and more accessible to the public.    Michael Hill, with the assistance of his wife,  paid particular attention paid particular attention to the store layout and colour scheme.    The ideas incorporated to the Whangarei store on opening date have largely been retained in the Michael Hill Jeweller stores of today. 

                                In the second year of business the shop turned over $3/4 million, more than the business he had left.   So his ideas were working and Hill decided to expand, opening his next New Zealand stores in Hastings, Lower Hutt and Palmerston North. 

                                He designed his newspaper and household brochure advertising to have impact.  He would include zany bits, such as pictures of himself or advertising  of some of the products upside    down.  Another technique was to advertise the goods at hugely reduced prices  (e.g. worth say $400.00, selling for $79.95).   This was an innovation for the jewellery industry, gave the customer an impression that they were getting a bargain, and certainly attracted at lot of attention and custom.   Success continued so Hill decided to extend his advertising impact by using regional television in the areas he had stores.   He fronted the ads himself and from them came the distinctive phrase “Hello, Michael Hill, Jeweller”.  This advertising was in itself an innovation-    no one had advertised  jewellery this way in New Zealand before. 

                                Michael Hill started manufacturing jewellery in 1981.   The objective was to cut out the middlemen in the jewellery industry so Michael Hill Jeweller could tell the public what an item was worth and then point out the substantially reduced price.   Manufacturing has since been a major factor in the continuing success of Michael Hill Jeweller and there are now manufacturing operations in Australia and New Zealand.   There is a dedication to produce the finest quality jewellery at the lowest possible price. 

                                Further stores were opened in New Zealand before Michael Hill Jeweller became a public company four months before the sharemarket crash in 1987.   This gave the company further capital to enable it to expand further and immediately after floating a decision was made to open stores in Australia.   Michael Hill Jeweller introduced similar innovations in Australia as those introduced in New Zealand, such as jewellery advertising, prime location  and store layout,  and success also came quickly in Australia. 

                                During the 1990s Michael Hill Jeweller Ltd  ventured into shoe retailing, but they cut  their losses and exited this venture when it became apparent the venture was not going to be a success. 

                                Michael Hill Jeweller Ltd has continued to open jewellery stores throughout New Zealand and Australia and enjoyed continued success. 

                                Characteristics that Michael Hill has displayed in the creation of his business empire and which are symptoms of an entrepreneur are:

**  insistence on a quality product.

**   enthusiasm for the task and a presence of vibrancy.

**   a positive mental attitude.

**   the setting of a goal and the following of this through, despite any failures and hurdles along the way.

**   motivation to succeed- not periodic motivation but instead continual motivation.

**   hard work.

**   personal achievement beliefs.

**   innovation.

**  spending time and effort in training associates thoroughly.

**   utilising steps in the sales technique.

**   delegation of duties.

**   generous praise and rewards to staff who do a good job.

**   being a good listener- listening to what friends and associates say.

**   flexibility- seeking new ideas and new technology in every facet of the organisation.

**   providing a product that the public wants at a reasonable price.

**   endeavouring to exceed customer’s expectations.



This examination of the three New Zealand entrepreneurs has concluded that they have shown the following common behaviours in the development of their business empires:

**   they started business on their own.

**   they recognised business opportunities at the start and have continued to do so thereafter.

**   they set themselves goals and carried these through.

**   they have vision.

**   they have the ability to deal with people.

**   they project a positive image.

**   they have a positive mental attitude.

**   they have a determination to achieve success.

**   they have energy and excitement for the work and are highly motivated.

**   they work hard and long hours.

**   they introduced innovation an product and service.

**   they provide a product/ service which the shareholder/ Client/ customer wants and gives value to that party.

**   they have astute business minds.

**   they took risks, but with astute judgement.

**   they are flexible and always seeking new ideas, new technologies and new opportunities.

**   they strive to be one step ahead of the competition.

**   they strive to be the best in the business.

These behaviours are the significant characteristics of entrepreneurial behaviour.



Hill, M. with Staff, B.  (1994),   Michael Hill, Jeweller- Fighting to Win.   Auckland: Penguin Books 

Morrison, I. & Haden, F.  & Cubis, G.  (1990),   Michael Fay- On the Reach for the Ultimate.   Wellington:  Freelance Biography Ltd 

Van Dongen, Y.  (1990).   Brierley- The Man Behind the Corporate Legend.    Auckland:  Penguin Books

Williams, T. (1999). The Rise, Fall and Flight of Brierley Investments.   Auckland: Davis Bateman Ltd


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