Chicago, IL

The fourth richest person in Chicago, Illinois

Luay Rahil
Photo: Canva

When asked about his retirement plan, Sam Zell responded, "Retire from what? I love what I do."

This determination and passion made him one of the wealthiest people in the world. Forbes estimates his wealth be $4 billion, making him the fourth richest man in Illinois.

Who is Sam Zell?

Sam Zell is an American billionaire entrepreneur and the founder of Equity Group Investments.

Sam's family fled Poland to escape the Holocaust.

Sam Zell was born on September 28, 1941, in Chicago. Both of his parents were immigrants from Poland, where his father traded grain for a living. However, when they heard that the Nazis were invading Poland, they decided to immigrate to the United States.

They first landed in Seattle in May 1941, but soon after, the family moved to Chicago, and his father became a jewelry wholesaler.

Sam managed a 15-unit student apartment building.

Sam Zell earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan in 1963 and his law degree in 1966. During school, he managed student rental apartments. After graduating, he worked as an attorney in Ann Arbor but left for Chicago in 1968, where he started Equity Group Investments.

A year later, he recruited his friend, Bob Lurie, into the firm as a partner. Bob had worked for Sam in his apartment management company in Michigan. Together they grew Equity Group Investments into an investment firm that invested in many industries like logistics, energy, and healthcare.

In 1973, Sam predicated a commercial real estate crash, so he stopped buying assets, saved his money, and created a property management firm to buy distressed assets.

In 1980, he shifted his focus to investing in bad companies.

In 1980, Equity Group Investments invested in companies that weren't well managed. So they invested in Great American Management and Investment and Itel, which was rebranded to Anixter.

Anixter provides communications and security products, electrical and electronic wire, and cable. Today, it is one of the biggest firms globally, with revenues of more than $6 billion.

Blackstone made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

By 1997, Equity Group Investments became one of the country's largest public real estate companies. It owned three enormous companies, Equity Residential, Equity Office, and Equity Lifestyle Properties.

Equity Office became a public company in 1997 and grew to be the biggest real estate company in the country, with almost 600 buildings. In 2007, Sam Zell sold Equity Office to Blackstone for $39 billion.

Zell continued to buy and sell many companies, including Revco Drug Store, the Schwinn Bicycle Company, Broadway Stores, etc.

Sam Zell's biggest strength is his ability to ignore conventional wisdom.

Zell advises people not to listen to conventional wisdom.

"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."

Have you heard about Sam Zell before reading this article?

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