Remembering Sam Zell

Shannon Beeman
May 18, 2023

“In the end, it is making a difference that really drives an entrepreneur – the empowerment, the ability to make something happen, the ability to see it and have it translate into reality,” Sam Zell. 

Sam Zell University of Michigan It is with profound sadness that the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies shares the death of its primary benefactor, cofounder, board member, and friend, Samuel Zell today at age 81.

Zell was an iconic figure in real estate and throughout the corporate world. An active investor in real estate since the 1960s, he helped revolutionize the industry through the popularization of the real estate investment trust (“REIT”) structure in the 1990s, democratizing the ownership of publicly traded real estate companies. Zell founded the predecessor company to Equity Residential while a student at the University of Michigan and took it public on the NYSE in August 1993. Under his leadership, Equity Residential grew into a highly regarded $31B apartment owner, developer and operator and S&P 500 member. Over the years he invested in and grew businesses in multiple industries including real estate, manufacturing, retail, travel, healthcare and energy.

Zell was an active philanthropist with a focus on entrepreneurial education. In 1999, the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies was established at the University of Michigan with an endowment of $10 million from Samuel Zell and Ann Lurie, on behalf of her late husband, Robert H. Lurie. The Zell Family Foundation pledged an additional $60 million in 2015 to extend programs at the institute within the business school and create a new fund for student business ventures. He established additional entrepreneurial programs including the Zell Fellows Program for Entrepreneurship at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and the Zell Entrepreneurship Program at Reichman University (formerly IDC Herzliya), a private higher education institution in Israel.

“Sam Zell was a visionary, he took the skills he developed at the University of Michigan and turned them into a lasting legacy of entrepreneurial education,” Stewart Thornhill, Executive Director of the Zell Lurie Institute at Michigan Ross. “His experience and perspective as a student entrepreneur and investor touched so many of our students and alumni. Sam will be deeply missed by all at the institute. His wisdom is the basis for all of our programs and our team will continue this important and impactful work in his memory.”

Please see for a retrospective of Mr. Zell’s many accomplishments and contributions to the investing and philanthropic communities.