Hugh Green was born in Ireland and left school at the age of 12 to work with livestock and at cattle fairs. He worked in Scotland, England and Australia before he was 20, and then settled in New Zealand. Hugh and friend Barney McCahill formed a company that grew to become one of the major civil construction firms in the country. Hugh went on to have interests in engineering, construction and property investment.
Hugh established the Hugh Green Trust in 1968, which became the Hugh Green Foundation in 1998. The foundation gives away $1.5m to $2m each year and has supported organisations including St Vincent De Paul Society, the Fred Hollows Foundation, Diabetes New Zealand and Medicine Mondiale.