Bloomberg headline: Larry Ellison’s Lanai Isn’t for You—or the People Who Live There
Subheadline: The Oracle billionaire is making his Hawaiian island more hospitable to the super-rich and pushing out families that have been there for generations.
Story by Sophie Alexander
Photographs by Elizabeth Weinberg
Graphics by Jeremy C.F. Lin
for Bloomberg Businessweek + Equality
June 9, 2022
In hindsight, Chris Andrus says, the Nobu opening was a bad sign. It was 2012. Andrus, a bald, goateed, self-proclaimed hippie, was living on Lanai, a Hawaiian island of about 3,000 people, helping an old friend start a woodworking company. Paradise was treating him well: The business was growing rapidly, and Andrus was in love with Lanai’s tightknit community. Then Larry Ellison, the eccentric co-founder of Oracle Corp. and the 11th-richest person in the world, bought it—the island, that is. The $300 million purchase came with 98% of Lanai’s 90,000 acres, plus the two Four Seasons resorts that provide most of its jobs, a significant chunk of its homes, and practically all its commercial properties. Overnight, Ellison became almost everyone’s boss, landlord, or both.
One of the first things Ellison did was build a Nobu, the definition of an ultra-high-end restaurant chain. (“Inedible,” he’s said of the cuisine he first found on Lanai.) Andrus was invited to the soft opening because Lanai Woodworkers had helped build the place. He met Ellison on his way to the bathroom and introduced himself by way of his handiwork, pointing to the hostess stand and wooden walls. Ellison shook his hand and told him, “We’re gonna do great work together,” he recalls. That was the last time they spoke. Two weeks later, Andrus was out of a job.
See, the space the woodworkers were renting came with Ellison’s purchase of the island, and the billionaire’s agents told Peter Franklin, Andrus’s friend and the owner of Lanai Woodworkers, he would have to either clear out or sell the company to Ellison. Franklin decided to sell so the shop would at least survive in some form, and the deal came with a job for him. There wasn’t one for Andrus, so at age 64, he became Lanai’s paperboy instead. Andrus says he knew the newspaper industry was dying—“No offense”—but he didn’t expect to be in as dire financial straits as he is today.