Hawaii’s Richest People

Tech entrepreneurs and major landowners dominate list

February, 2012

Our Method

When we set out to rank Hawaii’s wealthiest people, we knew it wouldn’t be easy. Part of that difficulty has to do with culture: Local people have always been skittish about discussing money. In fact, despite many requests, no one on this list was willing to talk to us on the record about their wealth.

Another challenge is that much of Hawaii’s wealth is tied up in families and it is hard to figure how much belongs to whom. In other cases, vast wealth has been spread across many descendants, so that no single member of the family makes our list. For instance, the Kawananakoa family, descendants of Hawaiian royalty and heirs to the Campbell Estate, is one of Hawaii’s richest families, but its wealth is spread among many members.

Then you have to decide who actually lives here. It’s fairly easy to cross off some of the super-rich, like Oprah Winfrey or Michael Dell, who both own property on the Neighbor Islands and pay property taxes, but clearly call somewhere else home. That’s why they are not on our list.

A somewhat tougher call was Blair Parry-Okeden, the daughter of Barbara Cox Anthony, who was the richest Hawaii resident until her death in 2007. Parry-Okeden is worth $6 billion, according to Forbes magazine, still has a home in Hawaii and serves on several local boards, but she lives most of the time in Australia, so we left her off our list.

The central problem, though, is that it’s often difficult to know how to value a person’s assets. For those few whose wealth is in publicly traded corporations, a lot of financial information is readily available. So, it’s relatively straightforward to figure out how much someone like Pierre Omidyar, our richest resident, is worth. (At least the big stuff; who knows what the myriad start-ups he’s invested in are worth.) But it is much harder to evaluate the vast majority of rich Hawaii residents, whose wealth is tied up in tightly held, privately owned companies.

What about land? Great wealth in Hawaii is often based on land ownership, but how do you calculate how much that land is worth? Assessed value? Most recent sale price? Comps? And what about those wealthy people who just accumulate properties without ever selling them; how do you figure out what they’re worth? The close tie between land and wealth in Hawaii recalls the sensible advice from the humorist Will Rogers: “Buy land, they’re not making any more of it.”

Given all the challenges that go with ranking Hawaii’s wealthiest people, further explanation about our methods is in order. Wherever possible, we’ve relied on publicly available information from sources like SEC filings, land records and official company documents. To further calibrate their wealth, we’ve tried to highlight major transactions or holdings of the people on our list. Even so, except for the two billionaires at the top, we cannot be certain the list is in exactly the right order. After they make their riches, some of the wealthy quietly give away a lot of it, either to charities or their children.

Finally, we set a baseline of $100 million in cash, investments and other assets as the requirement for inclusion. Those low on the list may not actually exceed the cutoff, but we feel they at least come close.


1. Pierre Omidyar

The fortunes of Hawaii’s wealthiest resident are still tied closely to the success of eBay, the Internet auction site he founded in 1995 and still serves as chairman of the board. In 2011, Forbes ranked Omidyar the 50th richest American, estimating his fortune at $6.2 billion. Since then, eBay stock prices have soared, but Omidyar has given away hundreds of thousands of shares. At today’s price, his remaining 132 million shares are worth at least $4.1 billion.


2. Steve Case

When Internet giant AOL purchased Time Warner in 2001, Steve Case’s piece of the $164 billion company was reported to be worth more than $1 billion. Of course, that deal didn’t turn out so well. Combined, the two (separate again) companies are now worth less than $30 billion. Case has done pretty well for himself, though. Through his Revolution LLC holding company, he’s a major investor in startups like Zipcar and LivingSocial, and he’s the majority shareholder of Maui Land & Pine and Kauai’s Grove Farms. Forbes estimates his current worth at $1.3 billion.


3. Michael and Sandra Hartley

Cheap Tickets’ acquisition by Cendant in 2001 for roughly $425 million put an exclamation point on the discount travel business developed by Maui residents Michael Hartley and his wife, Sandra. Their 47 percent stake in the company netted them almost $200 million. Good timing. Since then, the dot.com bubble burst (along with several other bubbles) and Cheap Tickets is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Orbitz.


4. Jay Shidler

As the largest player in Hawaii’s commercial real estate market, Shidler has left an indelible footprint on the state. His REIT, Pacific Office Properties, owns more than 1.5 million square feet of office space in Honolulu, including the Davies Pacific building, the Pan Am building and Waterfront Plaza. But his impact reaches far beyond Hawaii. Through The Shidler Group and its affiliates, Shidler has invested in more than 2,000 properties around the country and has taken five companies public. For example, Corporate Office Properties Trust, a REIT Shidler took public in 1998, now has a market capitalization of $1.5 billion (down from a high of nearly $2.5 billion).


5. Henk Rogers

Never underestimate the power of play. Rogers, best known for popularizing Tetris, made his considerable fortune in games. In 2005, he sold Blue Lava Wireless, his mobile-game-software company, which controlled mobile rights to Tetris, to Jamdat for $137 million in “cash and assets.” Shortly after Rogers joined the new board, Jamdat was acquired by Electronic Arts for about $680 million.


6. Duncan MacNaughton

Over the past few decades, MacNaughton has had a hand in developing more than 3 million square feet of retail and residential property in Hawaii. Major projects have included Waikele Center, Costco and Pali Momi Hospital. Through his company, The MacNaughton Group, he has also profited as the development partner for big-box stores such as Target and Costco, and has brought major retailers to Hawaii, including Starbucks, Jamba Juice and Blockbuster. In 2006, Starbucks bought out the local ownership’s stake in the 54-store Hawaii chain. The price wasn’t released, but, in 2004, Starbucks officials acknowledged Hawaii’s per store earnings of $1 million a year were the highest in the country.


7. Richard Gushman

In 2007, Gushman’s company, DGM, completed the development of the $100 million Waikiki Beach Walk project, in partnership with Outrigger Enterprises. For the one-time partner, and frequent collaborator with Duncan MacNaughton, that’s just a drop in the bucket. In fact, Gushman has developed everything from single-family homes, to high-rise condos, to industrial and retail projects. He has also managed a $250 million mortgage business.


8. Jenai Sullivan Wall

Heirs to Maurice Sullivan’s Foodland fortune preside over a commercial empire that includes more than 140 retail stores around the country. “Sully” famously introduced McDonald’s to Hawaii, and now the company owns the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Lamonts gift shops. The centerpiece of the enterprise is the 31-store Foodland grocery chain, the largest grocer in the state, now run by Sully’s daughter, Jenai S. Wall. It’s difficult to say what the grocery chain is worth, but, by way of comparison, Times Supermarkets reportedly paid more than $30 million for the struggling 10-store Star Market chain in 2009.


9. Bert Kobayashi

In 1965, when Bert Kobayashi took over the eponymous construction company of his father, Albert C. Kobayashi, revenue was around $2 million a year. By the time he sold the company to employees in 1997, it was grossing $125 million. His new company, The Kobayashi Group, is still a major player in Hawaii construction. In recent years, he’s teamed up with Duncan MacNaughton to build modern monuments (and cash cows) such as Capitol Place and Hokua, both of which beat the real estate crash of 2008.


10. Thurston Twigg-Smith

In some people’s eyes, the dark ages of local news coverage began in 1993, when Twigg-Smith sold The Honolulu Advertiser to Gannett for $250 million. The transaction made Twigg-Smith one of the richest men in Hawaii. It also accelerated the pace of his philanthropy. Which raises a question for many on this list: Most of Hawaii’s wealthiest citizens are also the largest donors to local charities. When someone like Twigg-Smith gives generously over the years to the Honolulu Academy of Art or the erstwhile Contemporary Museum, how much is left? Enough, we suspect, to stay on our list.


11. Ron Higgins

Of all the tech companies to emerge from Hawaii, probably none hit it as big as quickly as Digital Island Communications. Higgins’ networking and web-hosting company came along with just the right technology at just the right time. Founded in 1996, the company went public two years later. In 2001, it was acquired by Cable & Wireless for $340 million.


12. David Cole

Cole has had the good sense and luck to invest in or work for tech companies that have been gobbled up by larger companies. As early as the 1980s, he invested in game changers like Macromedia (Adobe), Shiva (Intel) and Tops (Sun Microsystems). Later, he was chairman of the Internet-software provider Navisoft when it was swept up by AOL, beginning his long association with Steve Case (No. 2 on our list).


13. Richard Kelley

The Outrigger Hotel empire stretches across the Pacific, with properties from Honolulu to Australia and Thailand. Although the kamaaina company was founded by Roy Kelley, much of Outrigger’s growth and vigor comes from the vision of his son, Richard Kelley. Although most of the company’s Waikiki properties are on Queen Emma lands, the leases alone are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They own the land beneath the Outrigger Reef in fee simple. In 1988, the price for that 2.5 acres of oceanfront property in Waikiki was $60 million.


14. Jeff Stone

The details of ownership in commercial real estate are often obscured by a welter of limited-liability partnerships, special-purpose corporations, and family huis. It sometimes takes an accumulation of details for the wealth of a man like Stone to emerge clearly. Most famously, his company, The Resort Group, was the master developer of Ko Olina, but that’s just the start. West Oahu Realty, another Stone company, owns the Makaha Valley Country Club. Stone-controlled Princeville Association LLC owns the 9,000-acre Princeville Resort and other Stone companies manage resort properties in California and the Bahamas.


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’sin 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).


Family Money

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).

Think someone else belongs on the list?
Tell us who and explain why at feedback@hawaiibusiness.com.

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