A fascinating read in the New York Times Magazine.
Larry Ellison Bought an Island in Hawaii. Now What?
By JON MOOALLEM; SEPT. 23, 2014
Henry Jolicoeur is a retired French Canadian hypnotherapist and a glass-products importer who enjoys making very low-budget documentary films. In the summer of 2012, Jolicoeur read that Larry Ellison, a founder of the Silicon Valley giant Oracle and the fifth-richest man in the world, had bought 97 percent of the Hawaiian island of Lanai — not a 97 percent stake in some kind of company, but 97 percent of the physical place. Jolicoeur was curious, so he booked a flight and packed his camera.
Jolicoeur knew a little about Lanai, having lived in Hawaii in the ’90s. It is among the smallest and least trafficked of Hawaiian islands — a quiet, spectacular place where Cook Island pine trees vault up everywhere, like spires or giant peacock feathers — and can feel like a charming wormhole to an earlier era. There is only one town, Lanai City, where virtually all of the island’s 3,200 residents live. Ellison now owned a third of all their houses and apartments; the island’s two Four Seasons-run hotels; the central commons at the heart of Lanai City, called Dole Park, and all the buildings around it; the town swimming pool; the community center; the theater; a grocery store; two golf courses; a wastewater treatment plant; the water company; and a cemetery. In a single sweeping real estate deal, reported to cost $300 million, he had acquired 87,000 of the island’s 90,000 acres. And he would subsequently buy an airline that connects Lanai to Honolulu as well. On all of Lanai, I heard of only a handful of businesses — the gas station, the rental-car company, two banks, a credit union and a cafe called Coffee Works — that are neither owned by Ellison nor pay him rent.
Jolicoeur spent about three weeks strolling around the island, asking locals to hold his ungainly, foam-sheathed microphone and tell the camera how they felt about the big acquisition. Everyone seemed to feel very, very good. “I want to thank Mr. Ellison,” one fishing-boat captain says. “He’s got a vision, and he’s taking care of us over here on Lanai.” A pack of landscapers, shown assiduously raking dirt, say things like: “Thank you for work, Mr. Ellison! Thank you very much!” The owner of a salon: “I just want to take this time to thank Mr. Ellison for the unbelievable, incredible takeover of Lanai.” Inside the island’s Catholic church, a priest in a purple robe, surrounded by children, says: “Heavenly father. . . . We ask for your blessings for Mr. Ellison, particularly, and those who work with him, that all the good plans and intentions that he has for Lanai be fruitful.” Elsewhere, a woman shouts a little breathlessly: “Mr. Ellison! Thank you for being here! We love you! I’ve never met you before and really would like to, and I can imagine that you will do awesome wonders for this place!”
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