Billionaire Real Estate Investor Sam Zell, Champion of REIT Model, Dies at 81

by Kristin Harlow

CHICAGO — Sam Zell, the founder and chairman of Chicago-based Equity Residential (NYSE: EQR), has died at the age of 81. An active investor in real estate since the 1960s, Zell helped revolutionize the industry through the popularization of the real estate investment trust (REIT) structure in the 1990s.

Zell founded the predecessor company to Equity Residential while a student at the University of Michigan and took it public in August 1993. Under his leadership, Equity Residential grew into a $31 billion apartment owner, developer and operator. 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. He established several entrepreneurship programs, including the Zell Lurie Institute at the University of Michigan, the Zell Fellows Program for entrepreneurship at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, the Samuel Zell & Robert Lurie Real Estate Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and the Zell Entrepreneurship Program at Reichman University.

“The world has lost one of its greatest investors and entrepreneurs,” says Mark Parrell, Equity Residential’s president and CEO. “Sam’s insatiable intellectual curiosity and passion for dealmaking created some of the most dynamic companies in the public real estate industry.”

Consistent with Equity Residential’s long-term succession planning process, the company has appointed David Neithercut as chairman of the board of trustees effective immediately.

Equity Residential owns or has investments in 301 properties totaling 79,351 apartment units.

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