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Am I being too subtle?

Billionaire Sam Zell has a (relatively) new book out called, Am I Being Too Subtle?: Straight Talk From a Business Rebel.

I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve added it to my queue. I can, however, tell you that I always enjoyed listening to Zell speak candidly about business and real estate when I was in graduate school and he would come in. He was never one to mince his words.

He’s making the rounds right now to promote this new book and he recently sat down with William D. Cohan of the New Yorker. Not surprisingly, the Chicago Tribute debacle formed a large part of the conversation – up until Zell got tired of talking about it.

“That is the L.B.O. that drove this company into bankruptcy.” Zell said, of the Tribune experience, “I made a bet. I thought the bet was reasonable. I underwrote it appropriately. I was wrong.” He lost his entire investment.

But this misstep did nothing to phase Zell’s contrarian approach to business and life:

Zell attributes his wealth to a prescription articulated by any number of successful business people: zigging when everyone else is zagging. It’s a replicable formula, he says, and he has little patience for people who complain that it was somehow easier in the good old days, or that the moment for such opportunities has passed. (His earliest successes came from investing in real-estate assets that others shunned.)

He refuses to listen when he’s told he can’t do something. “I spent my whole life listening to people explain to me that I don’t get it,” he says. “I look at the Forbes 400 list, and if I eliminate the people who inherited the money, everybody else went left when conventional wisdom said to go right. How did I do what I did? By not listening to anybody else.”

It’s the Sam Zell way.

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