Sam Zell Dies at 81


Sam Zell has died at 81. Image courtesy of Equity Group Investments

Sam Zell, the founder and chairman of Equity Group Investments who launched numerous companies in a career spanning more than six decades, has died at 81.

A central figure in creating the modern REIT, which today represents a $4 trillion industry, Zell was born in Chicago, the son of Jewish immigrants who had fled Nazi-occupied Poland. He managed student housing apartments as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan and went on to found Equity Group in Chicago in 1968.

In the 1990s, Zell launched a series of REITs, including Equity Residential, one of the largest apartment REITs ever formed, Equity LifeStyle Properties and Equity Office Properties Trust, which became the first REIT included in the S&P 500 when it was sold for $39 billion in 1997 in the largest leveraged buyout up to that time. In 1999, Zell formed Equity International to invest in emerging international markets. He took over CommonWealth REIT in 2014, renaming the firm Equity Commonwealth. Zell’s strategy of being an active buyer during some of the industry’s worst downturns earned him the nickname, “the grave dancer.”

Although he was best known for his impact on commercial real estate, his holdings spanned a remarkably diverse array of industries, including transportation, energy, infrastructure, logistics, manufacturing, agribusiness and health care.

As chairman of wire and cable provider Anixter International for over three decades, Zell shepherded the company’s $4.5 billion sale in 2020. He was also chairman of energy-from-waste company Covanta Holding Corporation and media holding company Jacor Communications, among others.

Zell is survived by his wife, Helen, his three children and nine grandchildren.



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Mike McNamara

Mike McNamara

A Las Vegas Realtor since 2008. Mike has a wide range of knowledge around all things Las Vegas.

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