Neville Crichton reckons his Queen's Birthday honour is a pretty nice birthday present.

The champion sailor and automotive mogul, who turns 67 today, has been made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business and yachting.

"It's nice to get honoured for something you enjoy like yacht racing," Crichton told the Business Herald by phone from the south of France.

The Sydney-based Kiwi migrated to Australia in the early 1980s, where he founded Ateco Group, which today imports Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo and Citroen vehicles into this country and Australia.


In 1982 he founded Alloy Yachts in New Zealand, which has been credited with launching the local marine industry. Crichton said the high-end car market was a little difficult at the moment. But the cheaper, Chinese-made Great Wall and Chery vehicles his firm began importing 15 months ago were "going gangbusters".

His success in the automotive business has made him wealthy. The 2011 National Business Review Rich List valued him at $165 million.

He grew up in various parts of New Zealand and attended Rotorua Boys' High School, which he left at the age of 14. "I wasn't very good at school, and there was someone better than me that needed the chair," Crichton said in a 2010 interview.

He began yachting in his youth and qualified to represent the Bay of Islands in P-class racing.

After leaving school he entered the automotive industry and in 1972 opened a used car dealership with Kiwi motoring baron Colin Giltrap.

In 1978, aged 29, he was diagnosed with throat cancer while living in Hawaii. Crichton endured 30 operations and eventually had his voice-box and oesophagus removed.

Doctors told him it was unlikely he would ever speak again, but experimental surgery in Indianapolis saw him become one of the first people in the world to receive an artificial voice box. About two weeks after the operation he began speaking again.

After the cancer, Crichton got back into yachting. He skippered the 30m superyacht, Alfa Romeo, to victory in the 2010 Sydney to Hobart race and has a long list of other wins to his name.

Yachting can be a dangerous sport but it's particularly treacherous for Crichton. If he fell overboard he would die, as water would pour in through the machine in his throat.

Despite spending much of his life outside New Zealand, Crichton said he was a "Kiwi through and through". But he said he no longer owned any property in this country.