Johnson has created Oil Nut Bay, a generational family resort community on an amazing 400 acres on the eastern tip of Virgin Gorda built in ecological harmony with the land. The luxury homes and villas are custom-built into the island’s terrain and the architectural designs meld cutting-edge, modern elements with natural elegance. Lots for sale range in pricing from $1.65M to $25M, villas for sale range from $2.95-$39.5M and nightly villa rentals range from $550 to $30,000 per night from low season through high season. Amenities include a private beach club with three pools and a swim-up bar, wellness center with gym and two tennis courts, two pickleball courts, a Nature Center, fitness center, equipment for kayaking, sailing, and snorkeling; Nut House Kids Club; three world-class dining options, a Marina Village and two heli-pads.
Johnson overcame a broken neck in a 1978 swimming pool accident. He established the Victor Foundation in the US, providing charitable contributions to foster programs for children and young adults. He then established the North Sound Foundation in the BVI, to support the surrounding communities, raising funds dedicated to helping navigate the economic fallout from the pandemic, teaching all local children how to swim, building elementary schools, playgrounds and outfitting local clinics with the medical equipment they need.
Johnson is active in Urban Land Institute, was a former Trustee and is a Governor for ULI Foundation. Memberships include the World Presidents’ Organization (WPO), Chief Executive Officers (CEO) and he has served as a State of Michigan Waterways Commissioner. In addition to his degree from Michigan State University, Johnson holds an honorary doctorate from Cleary
University in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is an alumnus of the Harvard Graduate School where he has completed the President’s Program in Leadership for 25+ years.
What are your biggest business concerns surrounding COVID-19?
The COVID pandemic has changed life as we know it throughout the world and will have long-lasting effects, many of them permanent. What we have learned is that people can live and work from home anywhere in the world, which is making people realize that they can actually live at a place like Oil Nut Bay. Another example would be that instead of going on several different trips for the year, they will find their dream location and make it their home base. Fortunately, Oil Nut Bay’s vision of only 100 villas on 400 acres perfectly accommodates the COVID era of social distancing. It allows everyone to live and work safely in their dream environment. Although secluded, we have seamless connectivity to the rest of the world. Residents can conduct full-time business over Zoom and stream Netflix while being with family and friends, or simply shut off to hang out on the beach, go kayaking or kiteboarding, while enjoying ideal temperatures of 80 to 82 degrees 10 months a year.
With my wife, Pam, I left Oil Nut Bay on March 19 and had all of our guests and owners leave at the same time. Our good friend Sir Richard Branson stayed in the British Virgin Islands [BVI], which was COVID-free. The borders opened again on December 2, 2020. We supported our extraordinary leadership and frontline Oil Nut Bay team throughout the closure, as the BVI doesn’t have unemployment. They were eager and ready to welcome everyone back, and boy did they come back. We were 100% full for the holidays with people from around the world. That led to seven sales in the last 10 days at Oil Nut Bay as people realized there is limited inventory remaining. We have great activities, including yoga, beach volleyball, paddleboarding, beach boot camp, and pickleball tournaments, and numerous kids’ programs.
Residents can conduct full-time business over Zoom and stream Netflix while being with family and friends, or simply shut off to hang out on the beach, go kayaking or kiteboarding, while enjoying ideal temperatures of 80 to 82 degrees 10 months a year.
We have over 90 full-time Oil Nut Bay team members working every day to improve Oil Nut Bay restaurants, villas and amenities continuously. We have approximately 200 construction workers on-site daily, keeping our development momentum focused on completing phenomenal owner-designed homes. We built three Marina Villa spec homes, which all sold, and we’re now building the final four. The four-bedroom villa already sold, and two two-bedroom villas are listed with special COVID pricing at $2.95M and $2.45M. They are fully furnished, turnkey ready to move in. Our new spa is under way, and we are incredibly excited to have created a new neighborhood unique to the BVI and the Caribbean. These are nine zero-setback ocean villas with decks built over the water and stairs going to the best reef in the BVI. I am also thrilled to report that three of the nine villas are already sold.
We’re very encouraged by the positive vaccine movement and hope to have all people in the BVI vaccinated by March.
What is your current business strategy for dealing with the situation?
The Hamptons in New York and Palm Beach in Florida are at all-time highs in home sales right now. Real estate sales at our Bay Harbor community in Michigan skyrocketed to heights not seen in decades. COVID has affected the world, so people can choose to live and work wherever they want. Prime real estate is now being sold sight unseen as everything is virtual these days, and our Oil Nut Bay team has done an excellent job of expanding and adding new dimensions to accommodate this. We continue to grow our online marketing to showcase the exceptional quality of what we build and focus efforts on building new homes. We are building eight new spec homes because we have found that people want instant gratification. We encourage everyone to pick their dream lot now and then have up to five years to decide what to build. We see people act 10 or 15 years earlier than they used to and change their lifestyle to be with their families and still do business.
How do you think things will look in your industry a year from now?
High-density vacationing and living is over for the foreseen future. Oil Nut Bay was built entirely before the pandemic, and we have 45 thrilled owners on-site with just 55 lots remaining. The pandemic only made us stronger, as we now feature 10 neighborhoods with a variety of villas and lots at different price points. The universal tendency is now and will remain to seek out low-density, multigenerational resorts characterized by well-spaced villas with outstanding amenities. All our guests say Oil Nut Bay is perfectly positioned for this, and we have a fantastic collection of existing owners who love our sensational team and living in harmony with nature in the beautiful year-round weather.
Also, through our North Sound Foundation and the fantastic support of our owners and neighbors, we have invested in the Virgin Gorda community and added playgrounds to the public school we built, provided meals and financial support to unemployed people, and now offer all children on Virgin Gorda the opportunity for swim lessons. We want our neighborhood to be better and stronger with our great alliances from our neighboring islands, who are also dedicated to the long-term continuous improvement of Virgin Gorda and the BVI.
What have you learned from other difficult times in the past?
My past challenges include a broken neck, 9/11, the global economic crisis, hurricanes, and now a pandemic. Failure is not an option. I lead by inspirational leadership, and I lead by the courage of action for not only our development but in taking care of our owners, taking care of our team, and taking care of the neighborhood and the greater community. I have a strong faith in God, a relentless determination to prevail, and a powerful ability to communicate with all stakeholders and pull together and unify everyone with a common goal to not only survive but be stronger and better. As a development community and as a role model, I try to inspire others to follow our lead. During the pandemic, we immediately set a goal to raise $1M. Pam and I started this off, and our owners have been sensational in contributing and have successfully submitted the money and that is in addition to more than $1M that we contributed to the community after Hurricane Irma, where we acted with bold, courageous, and identifiable actions that all can see. We have an inspired executive team and exceptional employees who now deliver sensational experiences to all who come because the simple fact is, as good as our virtual marketing is, the reality far exceeds it.
Safe–and entertained–at home: What business leaders are doing with their downtime
I start my day by riding my bike, and I love trail riding on my horse. I end my day by doing yoga and stretching. I am a Harvard alumnus, CEO member, YPO member, and Urban Land Institute member. I listen and partake in every major Zoom conference to not only stay current but because I am a firm believer in the fact that disruption creates massive opportunities. I have learned through life, whether it was from my broken neck, global economic collapse, or hurricanes, and my mission is to inspire others so that they can prevail in adversity.
I watch some shows on Apple TV, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. We like the shows Planet, The Morning Show, and an oldie but goodie Magic City, about Miami hotels in the ’50s and ’60s. We especially like newly released movies.
I try to listen to as many Zoom conferences as possible. Several essential books are, How Will You Measure Your Life?, by Clayton Christensen, who also has written phenomenal books on disruption. Another favorite book is Simply Rich, by my mentor, Rich DeVos, and my favorite is Good to Great. Magazines I read are Forbes, Boat International, Architectural Digest, and Robb Report.
What are you doing to spend quality time with those you’re sheltering with?
I spend quality time with our owners and guests every day, continually reach out to special friends and business leaders to share thoughts, and also try to provide mentoring. I love spending time with my wife.
What are you doing to stay healthy mentally and physically?
I am committed to being physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy in life. I work on it every day. We are active with philanthropy both in the BVI and also with Victor Foundation. We were recently involved in completing the Great Lakes Center for the Arts in Bay Harbor, which provides performing arts year-round with world-class performances at affordable pricing. My goal and God-given mission is to leave the world a better place, and I try to do that with every community I create. Oil Nut Bay’s mission is to instill into our owners, their children, and their grandchildren that together we can make a difference and make the land and sea better.
Where are you dreaming of visiting once things are back to normal?
My dreams are complete because I am back home in Oil Nut Bay. To me, it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth and our goal is to continue to make it better.