Students, faculty, and local residents gathered in a packed auditorium and two overflow rooms in the College of Law building to attend a lecture given by visionary and real estate tycoon Sam Zell. Recently ranked 112th in the Forbes 400, Zell has acquired a net worth of over $2.3 billion and controls most of the real estate property in the US according to Fortune magazine.
After an introduction by College of Law Dean Heidi Hurd and University President B. Joseph White, Zell said that he owed much of his inspiration to a visit many years ago to the University of Michigan law school by former UIUC Chancellor and Professor of Law John Cribbett. Zell visited Cribbett in his Urbana home after the lecture.
Zell deliver an insightful lecture entitled “Life from an Entrepreneur’s Perspective” and subtitled “What Make Sammy Run.” During the presentation, Zell explained how his unique outlook and willingness to take risks have made him a success in the real estate industry. A native of Seattle, Zell grew up in Chicago. “I recognized early on that I was different,” said Zell. “I looked at things differently than my peers.”
Having learned the power of persuasion at a young age, Zell went on to a career focused on leadership, selling ideas and concepts. “Nothing is bought,” he said. “Everything gets sold.” He talked about his “unjustifiable self confidence” and how standing alone and taking risks led to his success. “My greatest enemy was conventional wisdom,” said Zell, “I’ve been willing to walking right when everybody else walks left.”
Zell received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Michigan. After graduation, he became involved in real estate around Michigan, and later branched out to other industries including railcars and insurance. Over the years, his unique perspective allowed him to take advantage of situations like the 1967-77 real estate crash. Zell believes that being an entrepreneur helped him to see opportunities and solutions where others could not.
During the lecture, Zell stressed the importance of keeping things simple. He encouraged students to utilize simplicity instead of complicated ideas and techniques. According to Zell, the key was “simple and unfettered ideas, steps that go from one step to the other.”
Currently, Sam Zell is the founder and chairman of Equity Group Investments, an entrepreneurial investment firm. He also serves on the President’s Advisory Board of the University of Michigan, and has recently received an honorary Doctor of Laws from the establishment.
Zell knows what he wants on his tombstone. The man who says he wants to “make a difference” would like his headstone to reflect his view that he is “a man of his word, someone you’d do a second transaction with, and focused and obsessed with being fair.”
Near the end of the lecture to the overflow crowd estimated at over 400, Zell gave students an insightful piece of advice. “You’ve got to have heart and conviction. Being a leader is all about execution, and how to maximize your ideas.”