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September 30, 2023
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Real Estate and Business Icon Sam Zell Passes at 81


Real estate and business magnate Sam Zell has passed away at the age of 81. He was chairman of a number of publicly traded companies, including Equity Group Investments, Equity LifeStyle Properties, Equity Residential, and Equity Commonwealth.

Sam Zell is widely recognized for his role in creating the modern real estate investment trust (REIT). Zell, who gave himself the nickname “the Grave Dancer” for his bets on distressed assets, had amassed a fortune said to be worth over $5 bil at the time of his death.

Educated as a lawyer, Zell found himself drawn to investing in real estate at an early age. Zell founded Equity Group Investments in 1968 and began acquiring apartment properties. Zell’s firms became some of the largest REITs in the industry, including Equity Residential and Equity Office Properties (EOP), the first REIT in the S&P 500. EOP sold for $39 bil to Blackstone Group in 1997 in the largest leveraged buyout in history at the time.

Zell’s investments were not just in real estate. Over his 60-year career, he was involved in a number of industries, such as transportation and logistics, energy, waste and infrastructure, manufacturing, health care, and agribusiness. He was chairman of Anixter International Inc, a global provider of wire and cable products that sold in 2020 for $4.5 bil. He also led Covanta Holding Corporation, an international energy-from-waste company, and media holding company Jacor Communications Inc. Zell also took publishing giant Tribune Co private in 2007, but the company ended up filing for bankruptcy a year later during a time when much of the newspaper industry was struggling.

Zell, born to Jewish immigrants from Poland, grew up in the Chicago area, graduating from Highland Park High School. Zell attended the University of Michigan for both his undergraduate and law degrees.

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