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Remembering Visionary Donor and Entrepreneur Sam Zell

Samuel Zell

In the end, we’re all short-term players in this world, and the question becomes: what have you done; how have you made a difference; how have you influenced the future.

Sam Zell, BA ’63 JD ’66, Co-Founder of the Zell Lurie Institute

Legendary real estate investor and philanthropist Sam Zell, BA ’63/JD ’66 died on May 18, 2023 at the age of 81. Zell was a major donor to the University of Michigan, where he and Ann Lurie established the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at what is now the Ross School of Business in 1999 with an endowed gift of $10 million. In 2015, the Zell Family Foundation pledged an additional $60 million to extend ZLI programs at Michigan Ross and create a new fund for student business ventures. Zell has been a member of the Zell Lurie Advisory Board since its founding.

“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,” said Stewart Thornhill, ZLI executive director and Eugene Applebaum Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies. “His experience and perspective as a student entrepreneur and investor touched so many of our students and alumni. Sam will be deeply missed by everyone 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.”

Zell is recognized as a founding father of today’s public real estate industry after creating three of the largest real estate investment trusts in history. The Chicago-based real estate mogul launched his first enterprise while studying at U-M, eventually managing properties with a net worth of $5.2 billion, according to Forbes. Zell was the chairman of Equity Group Investments, the private investment firm he founded more than 40 years ago. The firm’s investments span industries and continents and include interests in finance, energy, transportation, communications, healthcare, and real estate. 

“It is impossible to quantify just how much Sam Zell has influenced the entrepreneurial academic landscape here at Michigan Ross,” said Sharon Matusik, Edward J. Frey Dean of Business. “When you combine innovation, resourcefulness, brilliance, and generosity, you get a legacy like Sam’s, which will continue to inspire future U-M entrepreneurs for decades. We are eternally grateful to him.” 

Zell served on the JPMorgan National Advisory Board, the President’s Advisory Board at the University of Michigan, and the Visitor’s Committee at the University of Michigan Law School. 


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