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Remembering Sam Zell: A Visionary Entrepreneur and Philanthropist

CEO Khai Intela
Sam Zell, ’66 Sam Zell, ’66, an entrepreneur and maverick in the business world, passed away on May 18, 2023, at the age of 81. Throughout his remarkable career spanning over 60 years, Zell founded...

Sam Zell, '66 Sam Zell, ’66

Sam Zell, ’66, an entrepreneur and maverick in the business world, passed away on May 18, 2023, at the age of 81. Throughout his remarkable career spanning over 60 years, Zell founded and expanded numerous companies, leaving an indelible mark on the business landscape. His contributions to the real estate industry and his philanthropic endeavors made him a revered figure.

A Legacy of Innovation and Impact

Zell was widely recognized for his role in revolutionizing the real estate investment trust (REIT), shaping it into a multi-trillion-dollar industry. He established companies such as Equity Group Investments, Equity LifeStyle Properties, Equity Residential, and Equity Commonwealth, showcasing his exceptional entrepreneurial prowess.

Sam Zell Entrepreneurship Clinic Caption: The Zell Entrepreneurship Clinic, a testament to Sam Zell's support.

Not only was Zell a trailblazer in business, but he also demonstrated his generosity as an alumnus of the University of Michigan. Alongside his wife, Helen, Sam made transformative gifts to various parts of the university, including the Law School. His $5 million contribution played a pivotal role in establishing the Zell Entrepreneurship and Law Program in 2011. This groundbreaking initiative provided free legal advice to student start-ups, fostering a supportive environment for budding entrepreneurs.

Empowering the Next Generation

Zell's dedication to advancing entrepreneurship education didn't stop there. In 2022, he and the Zell Family Foundation made an additional $2 million gift to the clinic, leading to its renaming as the Zell Entrepreneurship Clinic. This acknowledgment reflected Zell's unwavering commitment and support for the program. Through his contributions, Zell aimed to create a collaborative space that harnessed the potential of U-M's top schools in law, engineering, business, and medicine.

Mark West, the David A. Breach Dean of Law and Nippon Life Professor of Law, expressed his gratitude, saying, "Sam was a visionary thinker who reshaped the business landscape. We are grateful for Sam's unwavering support and for his legacy through the Zell Entrepreneurship Clinic."

Transforming Ideas into Real-Life Solutions

The Zell clinic at the Law School has been pivotal in nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit at U-M. Since its inception, it has offered invaluable guidance to 363 clients on over 1,000 distinct matters, ranging from entity formation to intellectual property protection. Notably, it expanded its services to advise student-athletes on name, image, and likeness issues, further exemplifying its adaptability and impact within the university community.

Dana Thompson, '99, founding director of the clinic, stated, "I am inspired by what our students accomplish on a daily basis, and none of this would be possible without the generosity of Sam Zell." Zell's unwavering dedication to supporting student endeavors has created an exceptional learning opportunity within the U-M entrepreneurial ecosystem.

A Lasting Legacy

Apart from his entrepreneurial achievements, Zell received global recognition as one of the 100 Greatest Living Business Minds by Forbes in 2017. He also shared his fundamental principles for life and business in his book, Am I Being Too Subtle?, offering valuable insights into his straightforward approach.

Sam Zell's legacy lives on through his wife, Helen, his children, grandchildren, and the numerous entrepreneurs and students who have benefited from his generosity and visionary thinking. His impact on the business world and society as a whole is a testament to his entrepreneurial spirit and dedicated philanthropy.

As we remember Sam Zell, we celebrate his remarkable contributions and the inspiration he continues to provide for generations to come.