Ellison buys own slice of Pacific paradise

By Stephen Foley

You probably would too if you had $36 billion. Not content with a vast collection of toys that spans luxury homes, private jets, lavish cars and cup-winning sailboats, the software mogul Larry Ellison is splashing out on his own paradise island, it has been revealed.

The American founder of Oracle is buying Hawaii's sixth-largest island, Lanai, for a price estimated at around half a billion dollars - putting Britain's Richard Branson to shame, since his Caribbean idyll, Necker Island, is worth barely one-fifth of that.

What Ellison gets for his money is 141 square miles of barely developed natural beauty, a property that has been called Pineapple Island because of its history of plantations growing the fruit.

These days it is a luxury resort, accessible to the billionaire set by helicopter or private jet. It boasts championship golf courses, opulent hotel resorts, and 47 miles of coastline that includes some of the most pristine beaches in the United States. There are barely 3000 residents, few made-up roads and no traffic lights.

It is where Microsoft founder Bill Gates - one of only two Americans richer than Ellison - married his wife Melinda, and he had been rumoured as a potential buyer himself when the island went up for sale at a price tag of between $500 million and $600 million.

The previous owner, eccentric billionaire David Murdock, who masterminded Lanai's transformation from agricultural centre to a hang-out for the rich and famous, said Ellison "will bring a new and fresh perspective to the island and its people", though the Oracle founder's plans remain a mystery. Murdock is keeping a 2 per cent sliver of the island for himself.

"It is my understanding that Mr Ellison has had a long-standing interest in Lanai," Hawaii's Governor, Neil Abercrombie, said, confirming the sale of the island after weeks of speculation. "His passion for nature, particularly the ocean, is well known specifically in the realm of America's Cup sailing."

For the four-times divorced Ellison, Lanai is just the biggest and most expensive in a series of lavish purchases since he shot to the top echelon of the world's rich lists.

Forbes, the business magazine which is the official arbiter of billionaire fortunes, ranks him as No 6 in the world, and Oracle - which he started as an experimental database software company in 1977 - now has its tentacles in almost every aspect of corporate IT.

Ellison still runs it, and ranks as one of the best-paid chief executives in the US, too, but he has managed to combine that with pursuing the "passion for nature" that impressed the Hawaiian Governor.

Ultra-competitive in sport as well as business, he lavished an estimated $100 million on his plan to win the America's Cup, which he duly did in 2010 with a 27-metre trimaran called BMW Oracle.

His once-friendly and now bitter rivalry with biotech billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli, with whom he tussled in the courts over the rules to the America's Cup, has kept sailing journalists in copy for more than a decade. Coming second, Ellison always says, "just makes you first of the losers".

His collecting of billionaire toys seems compulsively competitive, too. At one point, he owned one of the world's largest luxury yachts, the 138m Rising Son, only to sell it to record industry mogul David Geffen because he was frustrated it was too big to moor anywhere near shore.

His garages are stuffed with sports cars. And two years ago he rescued the US Open tennis tournament, and now owns a 50 per cent stake in the event.

Whatever his plans for Lanai, it doesn't seem likely that they involve simply sitting on the verandah and admiring the pineapples.

Plans likely to be 'epic and grand'

Larry Ellison's first biographer says buying an island in the middle of the Pacific is right up his alley.

"The possibilities are limitless" for Lanai, home to about 3200 residents, said Mike Wilson, who wrote "The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison: God Doesn't Think He's Larry Ellison."

Although Ellison's plans for the island have yet to be revealed, he's likely to do something "epic and grand", Wilson said.

As a man who feels cheated by a limited life-span, he's like a kid who never grew up but yet is a great visionary, Wilson said.

Ellison is known for flaunting his fortune like a playboy, driving fancy cars, wooing beautiful women, flying his own jet and spending $200 million to build a Japanese-themed compound in California's Silicon Valley.

Wilson said the high-tech maverick won't be concerned with how his lifestyle will jibe with a laid-back island where longtime residents are grappling with the loss of their pineapple fields to make way for luxury development: "I don't think his primary concern is fitting in with what Hawaiians want."

Ellison is "not a human bulldozer" and appreciates the beauty of nature, Wilson said.

The magnate loves the ocean, evidenced by his successful quest for the America's Cup, his numerous yachts and his thrill-seeking attraction to the power of the sea.

In 1998, he won a 725-mile yacht race in the South Pacific, but only after overcoming a ferocious storm that killed six sailors.

"He's capable of anything," Wilson said. "Lanai may be in store for the grandest preservation effort Hawaii has ever seen. Or it may be in line for the most grotesque development effort it has ever seen."

- Independent

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