Tuesday, September 28, 1999

100 Who Made A Difference

Star Kenji Osano Star

Star-Bulletin file photo
In 1974, Kenji Osano acquired the Sheraton-Waikiki,
Royal Hawaiian and Sheraton-Maui hotels.

Japanese investor
capitalized on tourism

By Rob Perez


HE was a believer who backed his beliefs with bucks -- big bucks. Kenji Osano understood the potential of Hawaii's tourism industry -- especially in Waikiki -- well before the state started attracting millions of visitors annually from around the world.

He was the first Japanese investor to buy big into the local industry, starting his acquisitions in the early 1960s. In one 1974 deal, Osano spent $105 million to acquire the Sheraton-Waikiki, then Hawaii's biggest hotel, the Royal Hawaiian and the Sheraton-Maui.

By the mid-1970s, Osano owned one-fifth of the hotel rooms in Waikiki, prompting some critics to question whether Japanese investors were gaining too much control over Hawaii's prime stretch of beachfront.

But such criticism didn't curb Osano's appetite for Hawaii investments.

By the time he died in 1986, the self-made transportation and real estate tycoon owned some 4,000 hotel rooms in Waikiki. Today his Kyo-ya Co. is one of the largest companies in the state, laying claim to hotels, retail stores, restaurants and insurance agencies.

Because of his keen business foresight, Osano was able to acquire or build his Hawaii hotels at what some considered bargain prices -- and then watched his investments soar in value in subsequent years. But because he was a long-term investor, Osano resisted the temptation of unloading his properties, even after they doubled or tripled in value.

For all his high-profile acquisitions, Osano wasn't comfortable in the limelight. He usually steered clear of reporters, especially after he was linked to a kickback scheme involving former Japan government officials and U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Corp. in the 1970s.

Although Osano lived in Japan, he was a frequent visitor to the islands until his health started faltering.

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