Secrets Of Billionaires: A Brief Study Of Sam Zell
Am I Being Too Subtle?, By Sam Zell

June 04, 2022

Secrets Of Billionaires: A Brief Study Of Sam Zell

When Russia and Germany signed their Nonagression Pact on August 23rd, 1939, Sam Zell's father knew it was time to get his family out of Poland. His foresight saved his family and eventually gave birth to one of America's more prominent Billionaires. Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. In his book, 'Am I Being Too Subtle?', Sam Zell chronicles the story of his life and subsequent meteoric rise to success in America.

Frankly, there’s no substitute for limited competition. You can be a genius, but if there’s alot of competition, it won’t matter.‘Am I Being Too Subtle?’ pg. 88

Top Five Takeaways From ‘Am I Being Too Subtle’

First, Who Is Sam Zell?

  • Billionaire. Forbes shows his net worth at just shy of $6 Billion.
  • Family escaped Poland just in the nick of time at the start of WWII.
  • Family journeyed for 21 months through Lithuania, Russia and Japan before arriving on the West Coast of America.
  • Sam was born in Chicago 4 months after his family arrived in America.
  • Started making serious money in college managing college rentals.
  • Began investing in Real Estate, owning entire blocks.
  • Studied Law at University of Michigan seemingly to satisfy parents.
  • Scaled portfolio by investing in College Rentals in smaller, less developed markets.
  • Started Equity Group Investments (EGI) with friend Bob Lurie.
  • Sold Equity Office, the biggest REIT in the country at the time, to Blackstone. John Gray architected the ‘Godfather Deal’.

Second, 4 Principles of Success

Successful people leave clues in their lives about how they became successful:

  1. Ability to predict the future. Be able to ‘read the tea leaves.’ Prediction is a basic survival instinct and a core ability of the human cortex. Sam Zell’s father predicted the imminent invasion of Poland and acted accordingly.
  2. Hard work. His father worked at least 13 hours a day, 6 days a week.
  3. Shem Tov. Your reputation. You do what you say you are going to do. Your word is your bond. ‘I am who I say I am.’
  4. Tzedakah. Righteousness, kindness, and giving to others. Chiune Sugihara, of Samurai lineage, helped save his family’s life by facilitating passage through Japan to the United States.

Third, Make Money (Not Debt) While Learning

With all the talk about educational debt forgiveness in America today, consider these points from Sam Zell’s life:

  • Sam Zell made serious income in college by managing college rentals.
  • In Law School, he became a millionaire through real estate investing.

Fourth, Learn To Tolerate Rejection

  • One key to entrepreneurial success is a tolerance for rejection.
  • Sam Zell learned to tolerate rejection during a summer job selling cosmetics for Helene Curtis.

Fifth, Swim In Blue Oceans

  • As an entrepreneur, prefer as little competition as possible.
  • I jokingly tell people that competition is great - for you. Me, I’d rather have a natural monopoly, and if I can’t get that, I’ll take an oligopoly.‘Am I Being Too Subtle?’ pg. 88

Oligopoly - a state of limited competition , in which a market is shared by a small number of producers or sellers.

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