And Sam was good enough to sit down with me for about an hour or so earlier – earlier last year to talk about how he gets to where he is. Well he says, “Guts and instinct are all simplicity. I went to Harvard Business School in 1988 and I spoke to 300 of them and I just beat the crap out of them. It’s all about what’s simple. What’s the shortest distance between two points? A straight line.”
Sam, that really struck me when you said that to me during our interview for the book because you said people just tend to overthink, right?
ZELL: Well come on, we have – when I was talking about that 1988 speech at Harvard, what I basically talked about was that the business schools, and I think they’re beginning to change, but particularly in the ‘80s the business schools focused on if you could just turn the page there’s the formula that tells you how to do it. And the answer is there are no formulas and – and success and failure are – are a combination of judgment and an external event. But it starts and ends with a simple idea.
LIU: And your gut. But your gut has played a very key role though in your business – in your success.
ZELL: I think that I have been willing to have an opinion and then execute accordingly.
LIU: Speaking about leadership, I want to talk about a couple of – couple of people in the news who are – one considered a leader is New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who’s now been under pressure given this whole Bridgegate scandal. Do you think he’s going to survive this?
ZELL: I think he will. I think this Bridgegate scandal is another example of journalistic hypocrisy. I just wonder whether the president lying to everybody about healthcare was more – more or less important than Bridgegate. Because I think Bridgegate has gotten more press and more focus than who knew what and when when the president was telling us —
LIU: So you think the press has given – you think the press has given the White House a pass on – on Obamacare.
ZELL: Do you have any doubt about that?
LIU: I – I have no comment on that. I think that to me it’s been pretty – there’s been pretty harsh criticism –
ZELL: The president (inaudible) for three years told the American people the same thing. Not one reporter challenged that in three years. Not one reporter said that’s false. Where did that occur?
LIU: Well afterward when – afterward when the results – when the actual implementation of it started coming out, that’s when people started asking questions.
ZELL: It was written. It was written and it was there and any member of the press could have challenged it but didn’t.
LIU: Let me ask you about Tom Perkins because you are part of the 1 percent. You are clearly part of the 1 percent. Tom Perkins came out with this – with this letter where he defended the 1 percent and he said, look, we are being persecuted the same as the – as the Nazis were persecuting the Jews. And he was just lambasted and he came on our network and defended it. How did you feel when you read that letter and when you heard his comments?
ZELL: I guess my feeling is that he’s right. The 1 percent are being pummeled because it’s politically convenient to do so. The problem is that the world and this country should not talk about envy of the 1 percent. It should talk about emulating the 1 percent. The 1 percent work harder. The 1 percent are much bigger factors in all forms of our society.
LIU: But Sam, tell that – tell that to the person who’s on minimum wage who’s living below the poverty line that they should try to emulate the 1 percent. How are they going to get there?
ZELL: The stories are rampant of people who started with a candy store and took it from there. There are lots of people who have the ambition and have the motivation and have succeed. Lots of people have come from nowhere and become part of the 1 percent.
LIU: But do you feel because you’re rich that you’re being persecuted?
ZELL: The word persecution is not the right word.
LIU: Okay. You’re being picked on.
ZELL: I think that the politics of envy, the politics of class warfare are what has separated America from many parts of the rest of the world. And we have benefited dramatically from not having class warfare, from not having envy. William Jennings Bryan in 1896 was the first person to run publicly in the United States on a platform of class warfare. He lost. And wisdom at the time said this is not America, and I think it still is not America.
LIU: Do you think though that there needs to be some help though or that – that there needs to be policy changes or something needs to be done about the growing income – income inequality, the growing gap? Do you think there needs to be something done with that?
ZELL: I think that that is a function of policies and I think that overall the policies that we passed for the last 50 years, whether it be unfunded Social Security or other issues, have all contributed to this disparity. And we need to fix our government. We don’t need 17,000 new pages of federal regulations in the last five years. So I think all of those things contribute to this disparity. And the more complicated our government makes our world, the more the 1 percent can afford to hire somebody to figure it out and the other guy can’t. But if you simplify government, neither one of them require (ph). And therefore the disparity slows down.
LIU: It’s time now for our global outlook segment, and international property investor Sam Zell is still with me. Now Sam, I want to play for you one comment that Bill Gates, who was here in our studio a few – a few weeks ago talking about his work – his work overseas and through the foundation. He talked a little bit about the cynicism he sees around the world when it comes to helping poorer countries.
BILL GATES, CHAIRMAN, MICROSOFT: The facts are on the side of the optimists, and I think it’s actually dangerous that people are focusing on the bad news and not seeing the progress we’ve made. It means they don’t look at the best practices. They – it makes them less generous. We are raising poor countries up. Most people live in middle-income countries now. There’s more to be done on health and agriculture, but the track record of success, if you don’t see that, you’re – you’re not going to participate in what we need to do.
LIU: Is he right the world is a better place, getting to be a better place?
ZELL: I hope so. I hope so. Certainly the world is – is getting to be a better place because of what Bill and Melinda Gates are doing. So I have nothing but accolades for what