Sam Zell says in a new interview with Forbes that "A true entrepreneur doesn't have the word ‘failure' in his lexicon. Maybe [a venture] doesn't work out. But no failures." So he can move on from the Tribune debacle without feeling bad, I guess. As for the glare of attention for owning and mismanaging a media company, he didn't like it and won't miss it: "I just don't need to be the media's bitch anymore." Excerpt:
Zell, 69, has good reason to expect things to work out. He has made most of his fortune buying distressed real estate during America's darkest economic hours. He has also shown an uncanny knack for selling at the top, as he did in unloading Equity Office Properties onto Blackstone for $39 billion in 2007.
Things didn't work out quite so well with Zell's acquisition of Tribune Co. The media outfit is now mired in bankruptcy court and a slew of related lawsuits. Zell doesn't rue the economics of the Tribune deal. It's the unflattering glare of the spotlights that he regrets.
With a $4.4 billion fortune to fall back on, Zell is again focused on finding real estate bargains in places that others have overlooked. The Chicagoborn son of Polish World War II refugees, Zell cut his first property deal as a University of Michigan junior when he offered to manage apartments in exchange for free digs. By the time he'd earned a law degree from the same school, Zell was overseeing 5,000 apartments, including those in several buildings he owned himself. During a visit home Zell discovered the 16% he was earning on his Ann Arbor properties was four times what his father was making from real estate investments in bigger and better-known cities. A lightbulb went on over Zell's head.
"I said, What I'm going to do is invest in growing cities," Zell recalls.
This, and a highly contrarian ethos, have formed the crux of Zell's investment strategy.
Cartoon: Steve Greenberg