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Am I Being Too Subtle?

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Am I Being Too Subtle?

Straight Talk From a Business Rebel


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Real estate entrepreneur Sam Zell gives life lessons on being authentic and forging your own path.

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Real estate entrepreneur Sam Zell earned his nickname, “Grave Dancer,” from an article he wrote in 1976 about resurrecting distressed real estate properties and starting over. His autobiography details how this son of immigrants became an investor and entrepreneur famous for his success in commercial real estate. Zell got involved in real estate during college, managing a student apartment complex despite having no experience. His investments grew, and he expanded into other industries. He also covers some business advice and history, including his professional and personal setbacks, such as his failure to turn around the Tribune Company and the death of his friend and business partner, Bob Lurie. getAbstract recommends Zell’s colorful account to readers who enjoy sagas from inside the halls of business.


Emigrating to the United States

Sam Zell is the son of Polish Jews who escaped the Holocaust and emigrated to the United States. His devout, highly educated parents lived in Sosnowiec, Poland, near the German border. His father, Bernard Zielonka, sold grain throughout Eastern Europe. Anti-Semitism was on the rise in Poland by 1937. To finance the family’s escape, Zell’s mother Rochelle sewed jewelry into their clothes.

The Zells settled in Vilnius, Lithuania. They couldn’t leave Europe for most destinations without visas, but Dutch-owned Curaçao – an island 8,000 miles away off the coast of Venezuela – didn’t require them. Getting there required traveling through Russia and Japan.

A group of refugees, including Bernard Zell, appealed to Chiune Sugihara, the vice consul of Japan stationed in Vilnius. Tokyo denied their visa requests, but the consul ignored his superiors and saved 6,000 Jews – now referred to as the Sugihara Survivors – by issuing transit visas through Japan.  

The Zells journeyed across the Soviet Union and arrived in Yokohama, where they lived for almost four months. After 21 months of travel through four countries, the Zells...

About the Author

Entrepreneur and investor Sam Zell founded Equity Group Investments in 1968 and remains its chairman.

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