He's one of the most fascinating entrepreneurs I've ever talked to, but David Murdock talked to me about something he has never discussed publicly before, and this will most certainly surprise you.
Sure, he's been in the news lately for opening his new, $450 million WellBeing Institute in partnership with the Four Seasons Hotel in Woodland Hills, California. It's a kind of high-end diagnosis center that uses the world's most state-of-the-art technology to tell you what's wrong with you BEFORE something goes wrong inside you. A life-long health advocate, Murdock has set out on the ambitious goal of turning around the $1 trillion healthcare industry by emphasizing healthy living and health MAINTENANCE, instead of relying on treatment AFTER something has gone wrong.
Murdock owns 50 companies including Dole Foods, Castle & Cooke, Southern California's Sherwood Country Club, he has more than 63,000 employees, is an avid Orchid breeder with more than 30,000 plants in a greenhouse outside Los Angeles, he also breeds Arabian horses, owns more than 12 million square feet of commercial and residential real estate in the United States.
But it's one property that he owns that attracted my interest more than any other. And until now, he's never discussed it publicly before. So during a recent interview with him, I decided to ask him about it.
"It's the largest private island in America," says Murdock talking about one of the true prizes in his long list of personal assets: The entire Hawaiian Island of Lanai. Yes, you read that correctly: Murdock owns Lanai! All 98,000 acres of it. Yes, some private citizens own homes on the island, but the rest of it is his. All his.
Funny, though, when I asked him about it, he immediately took the conversation to a financial place: I asked how it felt to own such a big chunk of Hawaii? That we had done stories on other moguls and their islands, like Virgin's Richard Branson for example. But only he owns a Hawaiian Island, and a big one at that! He responded: "It doesn't feel any different than if I walked out that door on the 10 sq.-foot of space," he says, pointing to the deck near where we were seated. "I don't think of it that way. After you reach a certain station in life, financially, I don't count money, I don't think about it. People say if I had your money, I would do this or that, and I say that I don't even know what I have and I really don't care. I have enough to do whatever I want to do and that's all I care about."
For the record, Murdock ranked 168 on Forbes list with an estimated $4 billion personal fortune.
But no, I said, I'm not talking about the island's financial value. I'm more interested in what it means to him personally. You could see him starting to glow. I asked him what it was like to fly home, and when he's in his jet looking out the window on final approach and seeing Lanai come into view, and knowing that it was all his. A Hawaiian island to call his own.
"Now, that's exciting. I'd be a liar if I didn't say that every time I come in, which is quite frequent on my own plane, and I land on the island. Yes, I do feel a certain excitement. I look around and see if we had rain, are the leaves greener? Is the grass greener? How are things down there? Did we have a flood?" he asks.
Lanai features two Four Seasons Hotels, The Lodge at Koele, and the Manele Bay Hotel, and Murdock owns them both. And while there always seems to be construction going on he says it's measured and not done to generate any income.
"I've owned it since 1985 and I've never made a penny on the whole island in all that time. But it is fun doing things and we do nice things over there I think. We used to be the largest pineapple plantation in the world and now we just grow enough for our restaurants and hotels. Owning a big island? I don't run around telling the world I own an island. I've never publicly talked about it, that I can recall, in my entire life. You're the first one to even asked me about it and I think most people have no idea who owns the island," confided Murdock.
Murdock has come a long way in his 83 years: A high-school drop-out who moved to Detroit after serving in the Army in World War II. He says he was penniless and sleeping under a bush when he was able to cobble together $1,800 to buy the diner he used to go to for free food and cups of coffee. He would sell the restaurant for a tidy profit and he was off and running.
Just how was he able to buy the entire island of Lanai? A quick bit of history here: Jim Dole bought the island way back in 1917 for $1.1 million and began planting pineapples. Dole owned the island and ownership passed to Murdock when he bought Dole Foods and all its assets in a leveraged buy-out in 1985 and he's owned it ever since. And he loves it.
"You wouldn't think that I get in my Levi's and boots and I get my cats out, my equipment out, and I plow roads, and I work with a pick and shovel," he says. "I don't ever want to lose the desire just to be me. I don't want to be a big shot, a hot shot. I don't want to be that. I just want to be a guy that's having a lot of fun doing a lot of things."
Exactly what he's been doing. And exactly what he's likely to continue to do.
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