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Sam Zell was remembered as a brash and outspoken investor who made billions buying real estate ranging from office and apartment high-rises to mobile home parks — and earned the nickname “The Grave Dancer” for scooping up distressed assets.
Zell, who died Thursday at age 81 according to Chicago-based Equity Residential where he was founder and chairman, is remembered for major deals such as the $39 million sale of Equity Office Properties Trust to Blackstone in 2007. He also helped popularize the real estate investment trust model in the 1990s.
Misses in his high-profile career included an $8.3 billion leveraged buyout of media giant Tribune Co., which led to a bankruptcy filing.
“The world has lost one of its greatest investors and entrepreneurs,” Mark Parrell, Equity Residential’s president and CEO, said in the statement announcing Zell’s death. “Sam’s insatiable intellectual curiosity and passion for deal making created some of the most dynamic companies in the public real estate industry. He was a generous philanthropist and an incredible mentor and friend and will be missed by all who were lucky enough to be part of his extraordinary world. We extend our deepest condolences to Sam’s family and loved ones.”
Former Equity Residential CEO David Neithercut was named chairman of the Fortune 500 company, which owns almost 80,000 apartment units throughout the country. Neithercut, 67, was the REIT’s CEO from 2006 to 2018 and he has remained on the board of directors since 2006.
“Sam spent decades creating value for the investors in Equity Residential and his many other enterprises,” Neithercut said in the statement. “It was my great privilege to work closely and learn from him for more than 35 years and my honor to succeed him as chairman of Equity Residential. The board, executive leadership and all the employees of Equity Residential are committed to honoring Sam’s legacy through a continued focus on value creation for our shareholders.”
The company didn’t include a cause or place of death.