Samuel Zell (born Shmuel Zielonka, September 28, 1941) is an American billionaire
businessman and philanthropist. A former lawyer, Zell is the founder and chairman of Equity Group Investments, a private investment firm
, founded 52
years ago, in 1968. The company invests opportunistically across industries and geographies and throughout the capital structure. He has substantial interests in, and is the chairman of, several public companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange
(EQR), Equity LifeStyle Properties (ELS), Equity Commonwealth (EQC), and Covanta Holding Corp.
(CVA), and Anixter
In 2018, Bloomberg
ranked Zell as the world's 397th richest person, with a fortune of US$4.4 billion. In October 2020, Zell had a net worth of $4.7 billion, according to ''Forbes
Early life and education
Zell was born on September 28, 1941,
to a Jewish
family. His parents, Ruchla and Berek Zielonka, were Jewish immigrants from Poland
, where his father had been a successful grain trader.
[Johnson, by Ben E]
Money Talks, Bullsh*t Walks: Inside the Contrarian Mind of Billionaire Mogul Sam Zell
Dec 31, 2009
They emigrated to the United States with their young daughter, Leah, via Tokyo.
[Chicago Tribune: "Here's The Deal - How Sam Zell Beat A Tax-fraud Rap And Rose To The Top Of The Real Estate World" By Greg Burns\ By Greg Burns](_blank)
July 25, 2004. pp. 2–3
Soon after arriving, his parents changed their first and last names, becoming Rochelle and Bernard Zell.
They then moved from Seattle
to the Albany Park
neighborhood in Chicago where his father became a jewelry wholesaler.
When he was twelve, the family moved to Highland Park, Illinois
, where he graduated from Highland Park High School
In 1963, Sam graduated with a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan
, where he was also a member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi
While in school, Zell entered the real estate business where he managed a 15-unit apartment building in return for free room-and-board and was soon managing the owner's other properties.
By his graduation, that venture was netting $150,000. Joined by his fraternity brother Robert H. Lurie
, he won a contract with a large apartment development owner in Ann Arbor
who was impressed with Zell's knowledge of what students wanted. By the time he graduated with a J.D.
from the University of Michigan Law School
in 1966, he and Lurie were managing over 4,000 apartments and owned 100-200 units outright. After school, he sold his interest in the management company to Lurie and moved to Chicago.
After graduation, Zell worked as a lawyer for one week before deciding that the legal profession was not for him. One of the senior partners who admired Zell's zeal for business decided to invest with him, enabling Zell to purchase an apartment building in Toledo.
Zell also purchased several apartment buildings in Reno, Nevada
, including Arlington Towers
In 1968, Zell founded the predecessor of Equity Group Investments and was joined a year later by his former partner, Robert H. Lurie. Together, they went on to grow the small firm into a vast enterprise, until Lurie's death in 1990.
Equity Group Investments
was the genesis for three of the largest public real estate companies in history, including: Equity Residential
, the largest apartment owner in the United States; Equity Office Properties Trust
, the largest office owner in the country; and Equity Lifestyle Properties, an owner/operator of manufactured home and resort communities. With their entry onto the public markets in the 1990s, Zell became recognized as a founding father of the modern real estate industry.
In 2006, the Blackstone Group
announced the purchase of Equity Office
for $36 billion, which was the largest leveraged buyout
in history at the time. Blackstone then sold many of the portfolio's properties for record amounts.
By early 2009, most of the properties sold were "under water" (worth less than the mortgage).
Zell affiliates owned the Schwinn Bicycle Company
, the drugstore Revco
, department store chain Broadway Stores
, energy company Santa Fe Energy Resources
, and mattress company Sealy
. In 1985, Zell took over Itel Corporation.
Between 1992 and 1999, Zell's Chillmark fund owned Jacor Communications, Inc.
, a successful radio broadcast group that included a television station. The company was sold to Clear Channel Communications
in 1999. On April 2, 2007, the Tribune Company
announced its acceptance of Zell's offer to sponsor the going-private transaction of ''Chicago Tribune
'', the ''Los Angeles Times
'', and the company's other media assets. On December 20, 2007, Zell took the company private, and the following day he became the Chairman and CEO. He sold the Chicago Cubs
and the company's 25 percent interest in Comcast SportsNet
Chicago. Under the burden of the debt incurred as part of Zell's leveraged buyout
and in context of the unexpected severity of the Great Recession, the Tribune Co. filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in December 2008.
In January 2008, Zell bought a controlling share in the Tribune Company
, owner of the ''Chicago Tribune'', among other newspapers. His decision to put Randy Michaels
in charge was one of several moves that were sharply criticized by the employees. Besides creating a hostile workplace,
Michaels laid off several employees while giving large bonuses to the executives. Less than a year after Zell bought the company, it tipped into bankruptcy, listing $7.6 billion in assets against a debt of $13 billion, making it the largest bankruptcy in the history of the American media industry. More than 4,200 people have lost jobs since the purchase, while resources for the Tribune newspapers and television stations have been slashed."
Zell and his wife, Helen, are philanthropists who focus heavily on education and the arts. Among their public beneficiaries are: the University of Michigan
with the sponsorship of the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies and the Master of Fine Arts
Creative Writing Program, Northwestern University
's Kellogg School
Zell Center for Risk Research and Zell Scholar Program, the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School
's Zell/Lurie Real Estate Center, The Ounce of Prevention Fund
, the Museum of Contemporary Art
and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Zell, according to ''The Forward
"Billionaire Boychiks Battle for Media Empire: ‘Committed Zionist’ To Buy Papers With Troubled Ties to Community"
''The Forward,'' April 13, 2007
is also "a major donor to causes in Israel
. His donations include a $3.1 million donation to the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center
in Israel and separate donations to the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress
, a free market oriented Israeli think tank
founded by Daniel Doron
. In the United States, he has given major gifts to such Jewish causes as the American Jewish Committee
and the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School
, a Chicago Jewish primary school named after his father." Zell donated to Chicagoland Jewish High School renaming the school to Rochelle Zell Jewish High School
, after his mother.
Zell donated $100,000 to Restore Our Future
, the Super PAC
supporting the 2012 presidential election campaign of Mitt Romney
. In 2015 he donated $50,000 to the John Bolton
Criticism and controversies
Zell is known for using "salty" language in the newsroom.
In February 2008, the website '' LA Observed'' reprinted an internal memo that said:
Last week you may have encountered some colorful uses of the lexicon from Sam Zell that we are not used to hearing at the Times ... But of course we still have the same expectations at the Times of what is correct in the workplace. It's not good judgment to use profane or hostile language and we can't tolerate that ... In short, nothing changes; the fundamental rules of decorum and decency apply ... Sam is a force of a nature; the rest of us are bound by the normal conventions of society.
In a sharply critical June 2008 opinion piece for ''The Washington Post
'' entitled, "The L.A. Times' Human Wrecking Ball", veteran Los Angeles-based editor and columnist Harold Meyerson
took Zell to task for "taking bean counting to a whole new level", asserting that "he's well on his way to ... destroying the ''L.A. Times''." Comparing Zell to James McNamara, who was sentenced to life in prison for the notorious 1910 ''Los Angeles Times'' bombing
(which killed 21 employees), Meyerson concluded his article by opining that "Life in San Quentin sounds about right" for Zell.
In 2008, Zell confirmed a plan to place the Chicago Cubs
and Wrigley Field
up for sale separately in order to maximize profits. He also announced he would consider selling naming rights to Wrigley Field. These announcements were widely unpopular in Chicago
and a poll taken by the ''Chicago Sun-Times
'' showed that 53% of 2,000 people who voted said they would no longer attend Cubs games if the field were renamed.
In 2010, ''The New York Times'' ran a highly damaging article about Zell's and new top executive Randy Michaels's management of The Tribune Co. entitled "At Flagging Tribune, Tales of a Bankrupt Culture." The report details a culture promoting sexual harassment and debasement, with executives openly discussing the "sexual suitability" of employees in the office and a tight circle of executives who were earning tens of millions of dollars in bonuses despite being deep in bankruptcy and a failure to stem declining profits.
In June 2018, at a conference organized by Nareit, Sam Zell stated "I don't think there's ever been a 'We gotta get more pussy on the block'" when explaining his views of female discrimination on the workplace.
Zell has been married three times and divorced twice; he has three children:
son, Matthew and daughter, JoAnn, from his first marriage; and an adopted daughter, Kellie, from his second marriage.
His third wife is Helen (née Herzog) Fadim Zell.
He lives in Chicago, Illinois, and has homes in Sun Valley, Idaho and Malibu, California.
In May 2017, Zell released his book, ''Am I Being Too Subtle?: Straight Talk From a Business Rebel''. The book was published by Portfolio The book details his business philosophy on finding business and investment opportunities anywhere. The book explains to readers what his business turf is like by sharing honest and humorous stories on what he got right, wrong, and the lessons related to business.
Awards and Honors
*1987, Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement
*1999, Hall of Fame of the Chicago Association of Realtors
*2007, Kellogg Award for Distinguished Leadership
* ''Am I Being Too Subtle?: Straight Talk From a Business Rebel'' (2017)
The Zell Center for Risk Research
at the Kellogg School of Management
The Zell Lurie Institute
at The University of Michigan
The Samuel Zell and Robert Lurie Real Estate Center
at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
The Zell entrepreneurship program
at the Interdisciplinary Center in Israel
Category:20th-century American businesspeople
Category:21st-century American businesspeople
Category:American business writers
Category:American finance and investment writers
Category:American newspaper publishers (people)
Category:American people of Polish-Jewish descent
Category:American real estate businesspeople
Category:American retail chief executives
Category:Businesspeople from Chicago
Category:Chicago Cubs owners
Category:Jewish American attorneys
Category:Jewish American philanthropists
Category:Philanthropists from Illinois
Category:Private equity and venture capital investors
Category:University of Michigan Law School alumni