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Sam Zell dies at 81

Sam Zell, the billionaire real estate investor, died this week at the age of 81. That seems young to me. Or maybe I’m just being overly optimistic about life expectancy. This is around the US average.

Whatever the case, if you work in real estate, you likely know/knew of Sam. In my case, he spent a lot of time at Penn after he permanently endowed the real estate center (under both his name and his late business partner’s name).

I used to go and listen to him speak at least twice a year, and I would hang off his every word as a young student of real estate. “So wait, how does this all work?”

It was also at this time that he sold Equity Office to Blackstone for $39 billion (back in 2007, it was the largest private equity deal in history). Sam’s explanation for doing this deal was that Blackstone offered him more than what he thought the portfolio was worth, so he sold it. He took no credit for good market timing.

If you’ve ever heard Sam speak, you know that he’s incredibly direct. Generally, he also didn’t seem to give a fuck, and was happy being the only person in a Hawaiian shirt among a sea of blue and black suits.

In fact, he’s largely the reason that, as students, we used to all joke that the richer the speaker, the more funny and honest they would be. “Come on, let’s go to this one. She’s rich.” I guess this is just what happens when you no longer have anything to prove.

But none of this is to say that he didn’t care. He cared a great deal about the school and about helping young students. And for that, I say: thank you Sam. Thank you for being generous with your time.


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