Larry Ellison is the co-founder of Oracle and one of the richest men in America. In 2012 he spent $212 million to buy substantially all of the island of Lanai. Lanai is part of Maui but is a separate island of some 900,000 acres. And it has been a one company town for nearly a century.
The original inhabitants of Lanai had no concept of private ownership of the land. But the Morman missionaries who started to arrive in the mid-nineteenth century did. One of those was a man named Walter Gibson who used church money to acquire much of Lanai, put it in his own name and was later excommunicated by the Mormon Church. But he retained ownership of the land which he passed on to his descendants. In 1922 it was purchased by James Dole for $1.1 million.
For most of the rest of the 20th century Lanai was a pineapple plantation. But by 1992 most pineapple production ceased as it was mostly moved overseas. Dole sold the island to Castle & Cooke which was later taken over by California billionaire Larry Murdock. The original Four Seasons resort on the island was built under Murdock’s ownership as part of his plan to develop the island as a tourist destination. That plan failed and his properties fell into disrepair. And his Big Wind scheme, to set up wind turbines to generate electricity to be sold to Oahu, never got off the ground. Then along came Ellison.
Most of the locals I talked to in Lanai were pretty positive above Ellison’s ownership. His goal is to establish Lanai as an ultra high end resort. He renovated the Four Seasons and reopened it in 2016. A second lodge is being renovated now. The unemployment rate in Lanai has plummeted and he has improved the infrastructure. Under Ellison’s ownership roads have been improved, a new movie theater and pharmacy have opened and a domestic violence shelter for women was built.
The Four Seasons
the Four Seasons rescue birds