Owning Your Own Hawaiian Island Is Such a Drag Sometimes. Just Ask Larry Ellison.

Where does the island of Lanai lie on Larry Ellison's post-retirement plan?

larry ellison

Oracle's Larry Ellison is not the first long serving CEO or co-founder of a major tech corporation to step down from his position. Yet, this billionaire's voluntary descent from his company's premiership feels a lot different from that of his peers.

Steve Jobs' resignation as Apple CEO in 2011 was a result of his failing health, while Microsoft desperately needed a change in leadership styles at the top, which led Bill Gates to say goodbye to his company.

But in Ellison's case there are no such problems. He is remarkably fit for a 70-year-old, and is still the most innovative force in Oracle's top-tier management. Also absent are any boardroom disputes a la Hewlett-Packard.

Yet he still decided to relinquish his role as the spearhead of his mammoth software enterprise. The reason, according to a report by the New York Times, could very well be his heightened interest in a Hawaiian island.

Ellison acquired Lanai -- a 141-square-mile island -- reportedly for $600 million in 2012 and announced his plans to turn it into an eco-friendly community.

"What we are going to do is turn Lanai into a model for sustainable enterprise," he said. "I own the water utility, I own the electric utility," Ellison said back then. "The electric utility is all going to be solar photovoltaic and solar thermal where it can convert sea water into fresh water.

"We have drip irrigation where we are going to have organic farms all over the island. Hopefully we are going to export produce -- really the best, organic produce to Japan and elsewhere. We are going to support the local people and help them start these businesses. So it is going to be a little, if you will, laboratory for sustainability in businesses of small scale."

larry ellison

Apparently, once the novelty of that historic real estate deal wore off, Lanai was forgotten – until The New York Times' Jon Mooallem set foot on the isolated island for a follow-up. He found that although Ellison has stayed true to all of his promises, some management deficiencies do exist on his part.

While most of Lanai's natives are satisfied with Ellison's plans to turn their island into what he himself called “the first economically viable, 100 percent green community,” his continued absence and his company's failure to take the natives into loop have upset a few.

“I want to thank Mr. Ellison,” a local fishing-boat captain said. “He’s got a vision, and he’s taking care of us over here on Lanai.”

Another added: “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!”

Meanwhile, there are those who say Lanai is just a rich plaything of a billionaire who would soon look for a return on his investment, which may leave the island worse off than before.

While few doubt Ellison's intentions, many feel his detachment from his "eco-lab" has made life more difficult for the locals.

"I don't think Mr. Ellison's trying to hurt people, but I don't think he realizes what a delicate little ecosystem the economy is here," said one such Lanai resident named Gail Allen. "We were so zealous: 'Oh, my God, he's coming to save our island!' It just feels like everything's in limbo now. All of a sudden, there's a fear factor: 'What are we going to do if this thing falls apart?'"

Despite sporadic grumblings, the $500 million investment on the region's infrastructure Ellison had promised can actually be seen. The few misgivings people have regarding his model project can perhaps be sorted out now that he is no longer responsible for steering Oracle.