Hawaii's Richest People
Tech entrepreneurs and major landowners dominate list
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15. Gulab Watumull
The Watumull fortune started in retail, largely selling Hawaiian fabric and Island fashions. But, like most Hawaii fortunes, the Watumull money is largely about real estate. Today, the entirely family-owned Watumull Properties continues to quietly invest in Hawaii property. And, like other Hawaii investors, the company has also looked farther afield, specializing in Portland and Denver real estate. The family owns more than 2 million square feet of retail and industrial space in Portland.
16. Franklin Tokioka
When he died in 1998, Masayuki Tokioka left behind one of Hawaii’s most remarkable financial legacies. Today, his son Franklin presides over an empire that includes Island Insurance, Atlas Insurance, Hawaiian Properties and National Mortgage & Finance. Although it’s hard to gauge the value of privately held companies, it’s useful to look at the sales prices of competitors. Last year, Tokio Marine paid $165 million for the half of First Insurance that it did not already own, suggesting a value of more than $300 million for a company that’s about three times the size of Island Insurance.
17. Warren Luke
Running a bank – even a large one – probably won’t get you on the list of the richest people in Hawaii. Owning one is another story. So it is with Luke and Hawaii National Bank. Founded by his father in 1960, in the 1990s the small community bank went through a decade-long experiment as a publicly traded company. Then, in 1999, Luke led the bank back into the family fold. Now, the small community bank has about $500 million in deposits and nearly $51 million in equity. Like most wealthy Hawaii residents, Luke is also heavily invested in land; through K.J.L. Associates, the family real estate-investment arm, he controls hundreds of acres near the airport.
18. James Pflueger
Although car dealerships have traditionally been cash-cows, few in the business make our list. That’s because, for some reason, the market doesn’t highly value auto dealerships. Those that really make it big, like Pflueger, get there largely because of the value of the land under their lots. In 1989, Pflueger was paid $33 million for the old lot at 1100 Alakea St. in downtown Honolulu. Pfluegler also owned the lot beneath Capitol Place, which he co-developed with The Kobayashi Group and The MacNaughton Group.
19. Duane Kurisu
Kurisu is probably best known for his more public investments, including Hawaii Winter Baseball, ESPN radio and this magazine, which is part of his Pacific Basin Communications media collection. But, as so often is the case in Hawaii, he made the bulk of his wealth in commercial real estate. Together with his sometime partner, Mike Fergus, Kurisu quietly built a portfolio that includes downtown office buildings, such as the Cades Schutte building and the old Brewer Building (bought for $20.7 million in 2004), and retail properties, such as the Pearl City Shopping Center. He also owns a piece of the San Francisco Giants baseball team.
20. Mike Fergus
Fergus’s fortunes are closely tied to his still occasional partner, Duane Kurisu. Through their various entities, they’ve bought and sold dozens of properties in Hawaii and Seattle. Over the years, Fergus has also accumulated several hundred thousand square feet of industrial and retail land on Maui.
21. Bill Mills
Another of Hawaii’s real estate and developer magnates, Mills has overseen some of the state’s most blue chip retail projects. His company, The Mills Group, has a portfolio comprising 13 properties worth more than $2 billion. Mills recently sold the Waikiki Galleria, which he bought in 2004 for $125 million. That was just after paying $95 million for the building at 2150 Kalakaua Ave. Mills also developed the 400,000-square-foot Maui Lani Town Center and the $70 million Wailea Shopping Village on Maui.
22. Joseph Nicolai
Like Jim Pflueger, Nicolai is more than a car salesman. His company, JN Automotive, has reached as high as No. 37 in 2004 on the Hawaii Business Top 250, but much of his wealth is in land, either under his dealerships, like those near the airport and along Kapiolani Boulevard, or in the posh residential confines of Lanikai.
23. Charles Higa
Great wealth almost always comes with mysteries. Charles and Francis Higa founded Zippy’s in 1966. Now, there are 25 of those restaurants scattered across Oahu and Maui, so it’s not surprising Charles Higa owns a lot of land (his brother, Francis, died in 1999). The curious thing is that if you search “Zippy’s” in the City and County of Honolulu land records, you’ll find that many of the locations are leased. On the other hand, you’ll notice that Zippy’s holds the titles to an astonishing assortment of retail, industrial and residential properties in the city.
Although much of the wealth of Hawaii’s richest people is in real estate, no one on our list is among the 20 largest landowners in the state. That status is reserved for big companies and trusts, according to Hawaii Business’s most recent survey, in 2008. The top two: Kamehameha Schools, whose holdings include its three campuses and numerous shopping centers, and Blackstone Group, which owns the Hilton Hawaiian Village and other hotels, plus the land beneath them.
Hawaii Business Top 250
Hawaii’s richest people have a major stake in several of the Hawaii Business Top 250, our annual list of the state’s biggest companies. That includes Richard Kelley with Outrigger Enterprises (ranked 18th on the 2011 Top 250), Franklin Tokioka with Island Insurance (71), Gulab Watumull with Watumull Brothers (96), James Pflueger with Pflueger Automotive Group (106) and Steve Case with Maui Land & Pineapple (155).
Many of Hawaii’s largest fortunes are divided up among members of big families. That’s why there are few representatives from the old kamaaina families on our list. There is no Judd, Wilcox, Baldwin, Damon or Kawananakoa on the list; only the Twigg-Smith family makes an appearance, represented by Thurston Twigg-Smith. The same kind of wealth dilution affects well-known commercial family names, such as Fukunaga (Servco), Wo (C.S. Wo & Sons) and Ai (City Mill).
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