Sam Zell talks to The New Yorker

New Yorker drawingThe New Yorker's Connie Bruck examines the personality that is Sam Zell and his deal to acquire Tribune, and comes up with some earthy quotes and notable observations.

Zell on doing business with Arabs as an Orthodox Jew by birth (but not practice): "In no way, shape, or form do I hide the fact that I believe in Israel—open kimono!...From the beginning of civilization Muslim rulers had Jewish advisers. I think it is actually a plus."

On Zell's style: Zell is compact and bald, with wary eyes and a trim white beard, but his defining characteristic is extravagant confidence. Early in his career, he decided that he would not bow to convention in his speech or his attire. In the seventies, he would sometimes wear a red polyester jumpsuit and a gold chain to meetings with bankers. He once said that if you dress oddly and you’re really good at what you do you’re seen as eccentric; but if you’re not so good you’re seen as a schmuck. He still follows this rule, though he now wears pressed jeans and custom-tailored shirts.

On his temper: "Zell is easily provoked. He has frequently castigated analysts who have been critical of one of his companies. At a recent dinner party, the mention of Hillary Clinton’s name prompted him to use a four-letter obscenity to describe her."

How Zell feels about the Tribune: "Zell’s folks are very critical of the corporate culture here, and they see many of the top guys as personifying it."

If David Geffen buys the Times: Geffen is rumored to have approached the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who is a friend of his, about moving to the L.A. Times if he acquires it.

Dean Baquet's take on the Zell deal: "Though on paper Zell is not your ideal newspaper owner, if you took a vote in the L.A. Times newsroom today, they would vote Zell in and the Tribune guys out. They’re hoping and praying the deal will go through."

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