MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Mega-billionaire Larry Ellison, cofounder of the software giant Oracle, is about to plunk down what's believed to be about half a billion dollars in cash - yeah, I said half a billion in cash - to buy nearly all of the Hawaiian island of Lanai. It's home to 3,200 people, 141 square miles. Known as the Pineapple Island, it was once owned by the founder of Dole Foods.
Larry Ellison is the third-richest American, worth some $36 billion, and soon, he'll add the island of Lanai to a long list of stratospheric purchases.
Mike Wilson wrote a biography of Ellison and, Mike, the title of your book tells us a lot. It is "The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison" - and then an asterisk - "God Doesn't Think He's Larry Ellison." It kind of says it all right there.
MIKE WILSON: Yeah. I think so. It gives you a little glimpse into Larry's worldview.
BLOCK: Well, let's talk about some of the things he's bought over the years. He is way into racing yachts and the America's Cup.
WILSON: Yes. He has built some astonishing yachts that have been very fast and poured a lot of money into it and yielded some great results. His 2010 America's Cup team won that prize with a yacht that he built and crewed on.
BLOCK: I had figured that this must be a mistake when I read that Larry Ellison owns a fighter jet. I think it turns out he actually owns more than one fighter jet.
WILSON: Yeah. He was noted in the late '90s and early 2000s for having bought a Russian MiG fighter jet. He's quite the aviator, though he's run into a few problems with aviation authorities out in California for flying too low at night and waking people up.
BLOCK: Aha. What about real estate? What else does he have?
WILSON: Oh, gosh, you know, maybe the most notable thing Larry owns is his Japanese-style, fabulous mansion in Woodside, California. That was the second vast, Japanese-style mansion that he'd built out there.
BLOCK: With all of the wealth that he's amassed, what do we know about Larry Ellison and charitable giving? How much has he given away?
WILSON: You know, he's very private about his charitable giving, though he's said publicly that he believes that it's important for him to give away most of his wealth, as does his rival and friend, Bill Gates, but I know that his charitable interests run towards education and medical research, in particular.
BLOCK: I read this, Mike, that Larry Ellison's motto for life comes from Genghis Khan. What is it?
WILSON: Yeah. The motto is: It's not enough that I win. Everyone else must lose. This has been attributed to him many times. I'll tell you, I don't believe it. I don't even think Larry believes it, but I think it's a good line and gets Larry the kind of attention he likes.
BLOCK: What do you think that Larry Ellison wants to do with the island of Lanai in Hawaii?
WILSON: There's no telling. He may want to make it into the world's biggest go-cart track if his latest enthusiasm is go-carts. Maybe he'll build a giant sanctuary for butterflies. You know, if the question is why did he want to buy Lanai, I think the answer might be because no planets were for sale. So this is probably the biggest piece of earthly real estate that he could see.
Honestly, though, I'm sure Larry has some kind of vision for what he'll do there. Whether the vision can actually be realized we don't know, and it's actually immaterial because Larry's the kind of guy who gets visions and tries to realize them.
BLOCK: Mike Wilson, thanks so much.
WILSON: Thank you.
BLOCK: Mike Wilson is author of the book, "The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison: God doesn't think he's Larry Ellison." Wilson is also managing editor of the Tampa Bay Times. We've been talking about Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison, who's about to buy the Hawaiian island of Lanai with a reported asking price of more than $500 million. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.