Flashy Oracle founder's next buy: Hawaiian island

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By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER, Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) — The billionaire poised to buy a Hawaiian island is an ostentatious and eclectic man who does everything in a big way.

And those familiar with Larry Ellison say buying an island the middle of the Pacific is right up his alley.

"The possibilities are limitless" for Lanai, home to about 3,200 residents, said Mike Wilson, who wrote the first biography of Ellison, "The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison: (asterisk)God Doesn't Think He's Larry Ellison."

Ellison built Oracle Corp. with $1,200 in 1977 and is the world's sixth richest billionaire. He inked a deal to buy the vast majority of Lanai from fellow billionaire David Murdock, whose company Castle & Cooke Inc. owns 98 percent of the island's 141 square miles.

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

"He could build the world's largest rare butterfly sanctuary, a medical research facility to help him live forever or a really cool go-cart track," Wilson said — but only half-jokingly, because those are the kinds of outlandish interests Ellison has.

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."

While Lanaians are eager for someone who might restore agriculture to the island's economy or someone who appreciates the unique culture of Hawaii, residents also are familiar with living on what Castle & Cooke calls the largest privately held island in the United States.

"Lanai folks have always been sort of this under this benevolent ownership, which goes back to the Dole days," University of Hawaii historian Warren Nishimoto said of Lanai's ownership in the 1920s by the founder of Dole Foods Co. "They never felt comfortable about what the future is for the island. It's at the whims of an owner."

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

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

In 1991, he broke his neck and punctured his right lung while bodysurfing in Hawaii. In an interview recalling the accident, Ellison said the beach was closed that day because of waves as high as 15 feet, but he attempted to catch one anyway.

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

But beyond boating or jetting into Lanai, his ties to the island aren't clear and his forays into tourism — the economic engine that has driven the island under Murdock's ownership — are limited, if nonexistent.

"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."

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Associated Press writer Michael Liedtke in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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