Welcome to My Net Worth, our regular column on the lives and motivations of our country’s top business, legal and political people, in their own words.

While some may consider accounting to be boring, Gina Hills doesn’t. In fact, she has been fascinated by it since she was in her mid-teens, living in the Manawatū rural community of Tokomaru and attending high school in Palmerston North. She later graduated – in accountancy, of course – from Victoria University of Wellington. In the years since, she has worked her way up in the corporate world, both overseas and in New Zealand, and is now chief financial officer of Orion Health. Recently, she also took on the role of executive vice-president of people.

I loved school. I did my primary schooling locally and later travelled into the city for my secondary education at Palmerston North Girls High. I’m very extroverted, meaning I’m quite social. I used to have lots of friends and also loved sport. I enjoyed the social aspect of school as well as the academic side – they went hand in hand.  

At 15, I remember telling my mum and family I wanted to be an accountant and they all said, don’t do it. 

I’m not sure what drove me to accountancy. I guess it was having good teachers along the way. I’ve had some amazing bosses and mentors, and my passion has grown from there.

I did the first year of my degree at Massey's Palmerston North campus, but having grown up in Manawatū, I felt I needed a change. So, in my second year, I transferred down to Victoria University. 

I loved my time at university. It’s where you get a lot of independence, and it was to experience that, that prompted my move to Wellington.

I ended up living there for about eight years. After I graduated, I got a job at BDO Partners as a financial accountant. Then I did my big OE and – as many Kiwis do – moved over to London.

I planned to spend only two years there, but I blinked and six years had passed. Initially, I worked at Vodafone for a stint, then worked for Visa Europe for about four-and-a-half years.

I really enjoyed being overseas. I did lots of travel and hung out with a bunch of Kiwis – as you do when you’re over there.

Gina Hills with son Eli. (Image: Supplied)

In 2014, we all moved back at about the same time and Auckland seemed like the most logical place to live. We started a family and then, coming off maternity leave, I got my first job at Orion. 

I had got involved in the tech side of things when I worked for Visa Europe, so when I saw the Orion job advertised, I thought it would be a good fit. But I will admit I had to ask what Orion did. Is it insurance? If so, not interested. 

I did some more research and learned it was a software company doing amazing things in the health sector. Great – I wanted a job with a purpose. That was six years ago now and I'm still here – another child and a few promotions later.

I started at Orion Health as a group management accountant. I held various other roles within the finance side for a couple of years before taking over as chief financial officer in 2019. Then, last year, I became also executive vice-president of people, responsible for our more than 600 staff.

Gina and Eli at Snowplanet, Silverdale, Auckland. (Image: Supplied)

I originally thought I wouldn’t be able to do the CFO role because I had young kids and it wasn’t without its long nights and a lot of stress. It was a really hard first year because we were trying to achieve profitability, which put a squeeze on things. It was a very demanding time.

Stepping out of a “doing” role and moving into a leadership role is really bloody difficult. I was working really hard, working really long hours – killing myself, if I’m honest. 

Then Michael Falcon, our chairman, sat me down and I thought he was going to pat me on the back and say I was doing a really good job. He said the opposite, in fact. I wasn’t doing a very good job. But it was what I needed to hear – I needed to transition from being a doer to a leader. It’s the best piece of advice anyone could have given me at the time.

Gina Hills (fourth from right) with Orion Health’s Auckland-based finance team at the company’s 30th birthday party at Auckland Museum. (Image: Supplied)

Outside of work – and this is really embarrassing to say – I am obsessed with puzzles. I always have a puzzle going in my house. I have a puzzle board set up, I get my kids to help, and I absolutely smash through the puzzles. 

This relaxes me because of the time zones we work in with our staff in Europe, North America and other places. Often, I can be working until about midnight, after the kids have gone to bed. I’ll turn my laptop off and I’ll either read or I’ll go and sit and do my puzzle – it winds me down.

I really love shoes – as much as I love accounting, I think. While I was at university, I got a part-time job, pretty much so I could buy shoes. When I moved to London, I had about 200 pairs and I got rid of them all. Got to London, accumulated more. Came back, and thought, "I’m going to be sensible, I’m going to be a mum," but, no, I’ve bought hundreds more pairs since. I buy a new pair at least once a month; it’s an addiction. 

I’m not sure what the future holds for me, but I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved so far, and I’m also excited about all the years I’ve got left. The sky’s the limit with where I want to go with my career. I’ve got some amazing mentors, including a career coach, and they are helping me to work out what I value and where I’m heading.

As told to Riley Kennedy.

This interview has been edited for clarity.