Tech billionaire Larry Ellison has continued paying his employees while businesses are shut down on his Hawaiian island during the pandemic — but his funding may be about to run out


larry ellison

  • Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison owns a 98% stake in Lanai, the smallest inhabited island in Hawaii. He bought the island for $300 million in 2012.
  • Ellison has been paying full wages and benefits for his employees on the island for the duration of the coronavirus lockdown so far.
  • He owns the island’s three hotels, the water company, the cemetery, the main supermarket, nearly a third of all the housing, and he’s in talks to buy the island’s electric grid.
  • Ellison, who’s worth $58.6 billion, pledged to pay workers until May 1. A spokesperson for his company said on April 29 that no decision had been made on whether he would continue past that time. 
  • A spokesperson for the two Four Seasons Resorts on the island told Business Insider on April 30 that some employees had been furloughed with full medical benefits. The spokesperson did not specify the number of employees affected.
  • The island’s hotels had planned on reopening on May 1 but will now remain closed after Hawaii’s stay-at-home order was extended through May 31.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison has been paying full wages and benefits for his employees on Lanai, the Hawaiian island he owns, for the duration of the coronavirus lockdown so far – but his funding may be about to run out.

Ellison, who’s worth an estimated $58.6 billion, bought a 98% stake in the Hawaiian island of Lanai for $300 million in 2012. Lanai is roughly the size of Detroit, making it the smallest inhabited island in Hawaii.

About 3,200 people live on the secluded island, which is home to one school, a police station, a variety of restaurants and cafes, and other businesses. Ellison owns the the water company, the cemetery, the main supermarket, and nearly a third of all the island’s housing. He’s in talks to buy the island’s electric grid.

Two of the island’s three hotels — all of which belong to Ellison — are Four Seasons Resorts. The older of the two, the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, was the scene of Bill and Melinda Gates’ 1994 wedding. Sensei Lanai, the newer resort, opened in November 2019 as the Four Seasons’ first “all-inclusive wellness experience.”

Since Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced a statewide stay-at-home order on March 23, many of Lanai’s businesses have been closed, including all of island’s hotels, the community pool, the Lanai Culture & Heritage Center, the movie theater, local boutiques and art galleries, and car rental companies. The island’s two grocery stores have remained open with adjusted hours, and cafes, coffee shops, and restaurants have been open for takeout and delivery.

lanai hawaii

Despite all of the mandated business shutdowns, many employees have been able to experience financial relief from Ellison himself. Employees of Ellison-owned businesses have been collecting their full pay and benefits through May 1, Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said in a recent press conference. Victorino also said Ellison was reducing or eliminating rent for many of the businesses he owns.

As May 1 draws close, financial uncertainty looms ahead for many island residents

With May 1 just a day away, the immediate financial future for many of the island’s residents is still unclear.

As of April 29, a spokesperson for Pulama Lanai, Ellison’s operating arm on the island, told Business Insider that “no decisions have been made at this time” about whether they will continue paying wages after May 1.

While the island’s three hotels were initially set to reopen on May 1, they will now remain closed after the governor extended Hawaii’s stay-at-home order through May 31, the Pulama Lanai spokesperson said.

The Four Seasons Resort Lanai will be closed through June 30, Lori Holland, the senior director of public relations and communications for Four Seasons Resorts Lanai, told Business Insider. An opening date has not yet been finalized for Sensei Lanai.

In an email to Business Insider, Holland said that the Four Seasons has placed employees on furlough with full medical benefits. She did not specify the number of employees furloughed or the date the change would go into effect.

A manager at one of Pulama Lanai’s restaurants (which Ellison owns) told Business Insider on April 29 that most of the restaurant’s full-time employees’ hours had been cut to around 15 hours per week — but they’ve still been receiving their full wages.

While the manager is salaried, they said that their unsalaried coworkers are worried about whether or not they’ll keep getting paid after May 1.

“They’ve been asking me for the last two weeks about what’s going on and all I can tell them is I don’t have answers yet,” the manager said.

Less than one-third of Hawaii’s unemployment claims have been paid since March 1, leaving a backlog of more than 128,000 outstanding claims, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported earlier this week.

“It’s extremely backed up,” the manager told Business Insider. “And I know people that are in other industries on the island that have applied for it. You can’t even get through the system because it keeps crashing.” 

Since buying most of Lanai in 2012, Ellison has spent an additional $41 million on properties on the island. He also bought two airlines that connect Lanai to the other islands (and later sold one), refurbished the island’s hotels, and invested in sustainable energy sources. The tech mogul plans to use the island as an experimental model for environmentally friendly practices.

The spokesperson for Pulama Lanai declined to comment on whether or not Ellison was self-isolating on Lanai, but the tech mogul owns dozens of homes across the world, including in Silicon Valley, Lake Tahoe, Malibu, Rhode Island, and Kyoto, Japan. 

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SEE ALSO: Hawaii is paying for tourists to fly home to places like Guam and Denver, showing the deepening rift between locals and visitors in popular vacation spots during the coronavirus lockdown

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