Up close and personal with Hawaii's richest man

Pierre Omidyar
Pierre Omidyar
A new wing on Punahou Schools campus made possible by Omidyar's donations
A new wing on Punahou Schools campus made possible by Omidyar's donations
Omidyar with wife Pam
Omidyar with wife Pam

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Forbes says Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, is now worth about $5 billion.

Since he moved to Oahu, he's been pouring millions into island charities and businesses.

Hawaii News Now sat down with Omidyar Thursday night to get more on his grand plans.

He's been here for four years, and Omidyar has already made more than $50 million in Hawaii investments.

His projects range from news to going green, but Omidyar's ultimate plan boils down to helping others.

As the keynote speaker for a Hawaii Business Magazine luncheon honoring the state's top 250 businesses, eBay's mastermind revealed that success is more about focusing on people, than profits.

"I've always been inspired in creating opportunity for people to fulfill their own passions," said Omidyar.

It's Omidyar's lifelong mission, and the common thread in all of his Hawaii projects.

Omidyar has invested millions of philanthropic dollars, including a $6 million challenge grant to help Punahou build a new Kindergarten and First-grade complex, which is named after him.

That's where he spent 8th and 9th grade.

"I understand from a few conversations that probably Iolani would've been a better choice," joked Omidyar.

It's a conversation he's likely had with his wife, Pam, who went to Iolani.

The couple lives in Kailua, and it looks like they're here to stay.

"Our oldest is in the 4th grade, our youngest is in junior kindergarten. We want to educate our kids here, we want them to grow up here so we'll be here for a while," said Omidyar.

That likely means, the Omidyar's will be doing plenty of business in Hawaii, and they already have their hands full.

There's the Ulupono Initiative, an alternative energy project, and the Honolulu Civil Beat.

Just four months young, the online news service has taken some heat for its $20-per-month subscription.

"There's no way I believe to support the quality of investigative civic affairs journalism in an advertising supported basis. There's just no way to do it," said Omidyar.

He wouldn't reveal how many members are now registered at the Honolulu Civil Beat, but did say there's a lot of traffic.

Omidyar is also a shareholder of Maui Land and Pineapple Company, one of the farms listed, but not charged, in the recent high-profile human-trafficking case, involving 400 Thai farm workers.

"It's something that occurred before we became shareholders," said Omidyar, who invested $10 million in the company in 2007.

The alleged modern-day slavery cases happened between 2004 and 2005.

"The quality of the management that's there now and how they focus on, the issues they're focusing on, I'm happy to be a shareholder as it today," said Omidyar.

As for new local investments, Omidyar says, not anytime soon.

But as one of the 40 billionaires who have pledged to donate half his wealth to charity, Hawaii will likely see the 42-year-old self-made entrepreneur, enrich more lives.

eBay celebrated its 15th anniversary this past Labor Day.

Last year, Omidyar says the auction site facilitated $60 billion in transactions.

That's $2,000 per second, and with a staff of 15,000, that's $4 million per employee.

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