It took Michael Hill 40 years to set a goal for himself. But once he did, he says, life took care of itself.

The founder and chairman of the jewellery store chain that bears his name becomes "Sir Michael" today.

He has been appointed a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year Honours list.

For 23 years, Sir Michael worked at his uncle's jewellery shop in Whangarei.

"I never believed I had any potential," he said. "I couldn't see any further than the edge of the counter."

Then, when he was 40, a fire destroyed his house and all his belongings.

The misfortune changed his life.

"I thought, 'There must be more to life than this,' and I took a jump."

Thirty-two years later, Sir Michael has gained national recognition for his entrepreneurship and contributions to the arts, golf and philanthropy.

He has 250 shops in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States.

For 10 years, he has hosted an international violin competition, and for the past three years, he has also hosted the New Zealand Golf Open at his private golf course in Queenstown.

He is a major donor to Cure Kids, helping to fund medical research.

"When you have a 30-year goal, a lot of things start to take care of themselves," he said.

"Strangely enough, very few people do it."

Sir Michael explains his philosophy with images of frogs, surfers and bus stops.

It is, he says, about breaking out of your comfort zone, something too few Kiwis venture to do.

"The problem is we get stuck, like a frog in lukewarm water.

"It is like waiting at a bus stop for a bus to take you to the perfect place, and it never arrives and you just sit there.

"It's better to make some decision than no decision."

Life could change entirely just by giving yourself a little push, he says.

"It makes an enormous difference. Once we start moving, everything starts to gravitate towards you.

"It's like a surfer struggling to get a wave, then you push yourself a little and you're moving."

Sir Michael said his greatest joy during his life and career had been to give thousands of employees a chance.

Many had no qualifications, but he took them on and let them try to fly.

A recent foray into United States retail had been challenging, but it had transformed his business.

"We have to live in the real world. We can't live in a cocoon in New Zealand. It's a tough world and we have to be exposed to the toughness."

A knighthood was a great responsibility, Sir Michael said, as people would look to him as a role model.

If he had a piece of advice, he said, it would be to find a goal.

"It's the most difficult thing to have. It took me 40 years and a house fire to do it."