Oracle CEO splurges, buys 98 percent of Hawaiian island
By Ben Brumfield, CNN
(CNN) – In the game of bragging rights, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison now has one over his fellow billionaire Richard Branson: his private island is bigger.
Ellison has bought about 98% of Lana’I, the sixth-largest island in Hawaii — and one that’s more than 1,000 times larger than the private island that Branson owns in the British Virgin Islands.
The governor of Hawaii confirmed the sale of the 140-square mile island Wednesday, but didn’t say how much it went for.
“It is my understanding that Mr. Ellison has had a long-standing interest in Lana’i. His passion for nature, particularly the ocean, is well-known specifically in the realm of America’s Cup sailing,” Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie said.
The island includes two luxury resorts, two golf courses, two club houses and 88,000 acres of land, according to a document filed with the Public Utilities Commission.
But Ellison may not have bought it solely for pleasure’s sake. The acquisition, which also includes various commercial and residential properties and utilities, may have made him Lana’i’s potential savior.
The island has “has been losing tens of millions of dollars a year in operating costs,” CNN affiliate KHON reported Wednesday.
“We need somebody with very deep pockets that understand this upfront that can continue these type of losses— at least for the first few years until we can find something to make the island valuable again,” the island’s state senator J. Kalani English told KHON.
The Oracle CEO is No. 6 on Forbes’ world billionaires list with a net worth of $36 billion.
He bought the island from Castle & Cooke, whose owner, David Murdock, has a net worth of $2.5 billion, according Forbes. Murdock is also the majority stock holder in the Dole Food Company.
Dole was founded in Hawaii in 1851, according to the company’s website, which brags of being the “world’s largest producer and marketer” of fruits and vegetables. Lana’i once grew 75% of the world’s pineapples, according to the Honolulu Advertiser newspaper.
Castle & Cooke’s website boasts employing nearly half of the island’s residents, which the last census placed at around 3,500 people, according to KGMB. But Senator English told the station that the population has fallen to about 1,900.
At 89, Murdock says he will retain a solar farm and a home on the island, as he retires as Lana’i’s benefactor of sorts – passing the baton to the Oracle billionaire.
“Lana’i has been my passion for years and I have made huge investments of money, time and energy for the betterment of the island economy and its residents,” Murdock told CNN affiliate KGMB.
Residents have mixed feelings about the island changing hands, said Dorothy Lester, a pastor at Lana’i Union Church.
“There are people who have been waiting for the time when there would be a new owner of the island. There are those who are very anxious because David Murdock is the only person they remember who has been in control.”
The island has another claim to fame — and to IT money. Bill and Melinda Gates married on Lana’I, according to a Fortune magazine portrait of Melinda.
CNN’s Chandler Friedman contributed to this report.