Crexi’s Top 10 Sam Zell Quotes

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A gruff, foul-mouthed contrarian, and political instigator, Sam Zell is a powerhouse in commercial real estate. Zell is renowned for his prowess in timing market-cycles, credited with having helped create the modern CRE industry, and dubbed “the Grave Dancer” for his ability to “dance on the skeletons of other people’s mistakes” and profit off of distressed deals. 

At the Tribune Company, a media organization Sam Zell owned, a memo was sent following a particularly profanity-laden visit: “The fundamental rules of decorum and decency don’t apply[…] Sam is a force of nature; the rest of us are bound by the normal conventions of society.”

Zell’s career began when he agreed to manage a 15-unit apartment building at the University of Michigan in exchange for free rent. His ability to work with and attract tenants would win him the management of 4,000 units by the time he graduated law school in 1966. 

Zell and his best friend and business partner, Robert Lurie, owned about 150 of those units. In 1969 they would form Equity Group Investments. Lurie eventually passed in 1990 but is still listed on the company’s team page with Zell’s tribute: “Bob was a business partner, a brother and a best friend. There have been many times over the years that I’ve wished I could talk to him. I’d want to show him what we’ve created here. I know he’d be proud.”

Like him or not, Zell embodies the American real estate entrepreneur and the greatness of the industry in many ways. Born in Chicago to two polish immigrants, Zell utilized his hard work-ethic, street smarts (and book smarts), entrepreneurial spirit, and toughness to build a real estate empire and an estimated net worth of nearly $5B. 

Crexi’s Favorite Sam Zell Quotes 

  1. “The definition of a true partner is someone who shares your level of risk.”

  2. “I think it was Confucius who said that ‘money talks and bulls*t walks.’” 

  3. (on hiring) “I look for people who in no way, shape, or form can be intimidated. My greatest fear is somebody telling me what they think I might want to hear. “

  4. “When it’s all said and done, the petroleum of the real estate industry has always been capital.”  

  5. “A tie cuts off the blood supply to the brain.”

  6. “Sentimentality about an investment leads to lack of discipline.”

  7. “Whatever goals you set, you need to constantly readjust them so that at no time do you reach your goals before your time is up. “

  8. (on whether opportunities are disappearing) “The world always looks nigh on impossible from the perspective of a desk. But once you get out into the world and if you have what I would call the entrepreneurial characteristics, I just think this country still provides a very unique opportunity.”

  9. “Liquidity equals value.”

  10. “Every day you’re not selling an asset that’s in your portfolio, you’re choosing to buy it.”

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Paul Cohen
Paul Cohen

National Sales Director

Paul is the US Director for Crexi where he utilizes his experience in assisting brokers in getting deals done. Paul is widely recognized as a market expert in Commercial Real Estate and has represented numerous private owners with underwriting and developing marketing strategies and has over $1 Billion in total transaction valuation.

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