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This interview is exclusively open to LSE students.

Sam Zell

Firm Name:







Equity Group Investments

Founder, Chairman

$17 billion


Real Estate

JD and BA from University of Michigan

United States



Sam Zell has maintained a mixed strategy of value and opportunity in his investment career. This involves identifying investment opportunities during economic downturns and to expand portfolios during economic upswings. Return is thus achieved by purchasing distressed, under-priced assets before restructuring and closing out at a higher price.


Sam Zell is also commonly nicknamed, “The Grave Dancer”, which dates back to 1975 when Mr Zell wrote that his success came from reviving 'corpses' left behind by the last real estate crash. In his book, 'Am I Being Too Subtle?', he stated how one of his most important guiding principles has been basic supply and demand, where an oversupply is often his best indication of a potential market downfall. He also founded and chaired Equity Office Properties Trust, the largest office REIT until its 2006 sale for $39 billion, in one of the largest leveraged buyouts of all time, to Blackstone.


Mr Zell sits on the board of 5 NYSE listed companies, Equity Residential, Equity Lifestyle Properties, Equity Commonwealth, Covanta Holding and Equity Distribution Acquisition Corp. Mr Zell is also an active philanthropist with a focus on education, such as the Zell/Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and the Samuel Zell/Robert Lurie Real Estate Center at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Real Estate Center.


Mr Zell began his entrepreneurship journey during his time at the University of Michigan, where he teamed up with Robert Lurie to manage student apartment units. By the time he graduated in 1966, he had managed a total of 4,000 apartments, where he personally owned c. 100-200 of them. After he graduated from law school, he joined a firm of attorneys, before quitting after his first week, at which point he was determined to build his career in real estate.


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