Sam Zell: More Than Anything Else I’ve Set The Example

Sam Zell: More Than Anything Else I’ve Set The Example

An interview and Q&A with billionaire real estate and private equity investor, Sam Zell. In this interview Sam discusses his investment criteria and how he thinks about and manages risk in investments. Sam also gives career advice and discusses his belief that anything is possible.

Sam Zell: More Than Anything Else I’ve Set The Example

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I was born in 90 days after my parents came to this country. So my parents landed in Seattle May 2 1941. I was born September 28 1841. Maybe the best way to exemplify. That possible life etc. is the fact that ship docked in Seattle at 6a.m. and at 6p.m. My parents went to their first class. Which is indicative of the immigrant and I dedicated the book to emigrate. More than anything else I grew up their household where my father and mother constantly reassured me or told me that this is America.

This is where the streets are paved with gold and gold is not what you pick up. It's the opportunity to pick it up. That's where America really is all about and that therefore I grew up in an environment where you didn't know that anything was possible. And so you know over the years your people would come and you know coming and one to be or whatever. How do you do that. And I basically answered that I didn't know know I couldn't And if you don't know you cant.

There are no limitations.

And so in the same manner as we became the largest real estate player in the world no one point. At one point in 1980 we didn't like the commercial real estate business and we said my partner and I sat down and talked about it and said What are the criteria.

It only makes for a good real estate deal. And I said What are the criteria for a good business deal our share.

Now all the issues are the same. And so we said you know let's spend the next 10 years bringing this up the position we're 50 percent real estate and 50 percent real estate. And we did that and more so when we got to a lot of challenges but it's all about anything and everything is possible in this environment. And. That. We need to recognize that.

And how we view over the course of your career in the early days. More recently instilled that perspective that world view that anything is possible. In other words you may have it but how do you get other people to see. I think that. Maybe the best answer to that question is there is no better opportunity than to lead by example. And that I have been the leader of. This is give or take 50 years since I started doing this since I graduated from law school and now. More than anything else I've set the example.

And that set the example by taking on challenges climbing mountains maybe starting with a rope pulling somebody up behind me. But then they found they could do it and my job is to be the cheerleader. And today at this point in my career I spent my whole day sitting there and getting pitched by my people and. With ideas and challenges and my job is that you are refining their ideas and reorient them and challenge them to take it the next.

I've met a number of your employees and a number of them are Michigan graduates and one of the things that is universal when they talk about what it's like to work with them for sale is it's not always easy. You will challenge them but they know that you believe in them and there's something about how you've cultivated a culture.

Well you don't. I mean this is a little cliche ish but you don't kill the messenger. You know the answer is that I mean as I say to my people all the time.

Take me on how I'm not afraid to defend my position. Neither should you. So you got to take me on if you think I'm wrong. Can't nobody nobody is quicker to acknowledge that they're wrong than I you know because ultimately the environment that I create is one of.

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Jacob Wolinsky is the founder of, a popular value investing and hedge fund focused investment website. Jacob worked as an equity analyst first at a micro-cap focused private equity firm, followed by a stint at a smid cap focused research shop. Jacob lives with his wife and four kids in Passaic NJ. - Email: jacob(at) - Twitter username: JacobWolinsky - Full Disclosure: I do not purchase any equities anymore to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest and because at times I may receive grey areas of insider information. I have a few existing holdings from years ago, but I have sold off most of the equities and now only purchase mutual funds and some ETFs. I also own a few grams of Gold and Silver

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