Hamilton’s Neil Richardson has been made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) in the 2022 New Year Honours.
“Education is your road to freedom.”
Neil Richardson was 9 years old when his mother passed on that piece of advice.
He has never forgotten it. In fact, he remembers what she said word for word – a crystal clear memory that has stayed with him.
It was front of mind when he found out he was being made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2022 New Year Honours.
Richardson said the CNZM, for services to business and philanthropy, is a “humbling” recognition from his adopted country.
He was born and grew up in Sydney, Australia. His mum left school at age 13 and his dad at age 15.
“They had very little money, they were still paying off their house when they retired,” Richardson told Stuff this week.
He himself was working in a factory when he was awarded a scholarship after school to study at the University of New South Wales.
And just like his mum said, education was his road to freedom – and success. It transformed his life.
“I wouldn’t have gone to university without that scholarship. I was the only one in our extended family who went to university.”
Since moving to New Zealand in 1990 to take up the job of group managing director of Gallagher Group, Richardson has had a long list of major roles in business leadership and enterprise governance, making a significant contribution particularly in the Waikato region over the past 30 years.
He was named Waikato Business Leader of the Year in 2014.
Richardson has been the chair of AgResearch, the Kiwifruit Industry Strategy Project, and the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, among many other organisations and businesses, including Visique Optometrists, Marque Group, and Waikato Aggregates Limited.
He was also the director of WEL Energy Group, and a significant shareholder and chair of New Zealand Home Loans.
Richardson is a member of both Te Puna Whakaaronui Thought Leaders Forum and the Primary Sector Council, is a judge of the NZ Hi-Tech Awards, and is on the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise Advisors Board.
He is also being recognised in the 2022 New Year Honours for his philanthropy and not-for-profit work.
Richardson is chair of Waikato’s Momentum Foundation and is a trustee of Te Awa River Ride Trust. He was also chair of Child Matters, a charity working to educate people about – and prevent – child abuse.
One of his proudest moments was seeing Child Matters help bring conversations about child abuse “from out of the closet into the public forum” and build public awareness and public clamour for action.
Richardson said ever since he landed that university scholarship as a teenager, and despite his many business commitments and successes, education has been a constant part of his life.
He has taught at universities in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Waikato Management School, and is chair of the university’s fundraising committee for building the performing arts centre.
He and his family have also helped people with their education over the years, “because we see it as such a critical thing, such a critical part of people’s development”.
Richardson said he has often reflected on his mother’s message – “the absolute importance of education, and how it can transform lives”.