Lunch Break with Sam Zell

Today Silicon Flatirons presented the entrepreneurs and aspiring business folks of Boulder with a treat, Entrepreneurs Unplugged with Sam Zell. Ranking in the low 50’s on Forbe’s wealthiest Americans in years past, Zell has a surely done more than one thing right despite what others may think.

zvt7dks5Here is the brief bio on Zell as said in the brochure: “Sam Zell is a U.S. born, self-made billionaire and real estate entrepreneur. He is co-founder and Chairman of Equity Group Investments, a private investment firm. A consummate deal-maker, Zell is invested in or controls a diverse array of companies, including the most successful builder of low-cost housing in Mexico (Homex), the largest U.S. waste-to-energy company (Covanta), and the world’s largest distributor of telecommunications and cabling products (Anixter). In early 2007 Zell orchestrated what was the time the largest leveraged buy-out in history — the sale of his flagship Equity Office Properties REIT to the Blackstone private equity group for $39 Billion. Also in 2007, Zell purchased the Tribune Company — publisher of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Time and the owner of the Chicago Cubs — in another leveraged deal.”

While the biography was a bit brief, it didn’t take long to learn a lot about Mr. Zell. He got started on his entrepreneurial lifestyle at a young age as he was purchasing copies of Playboy in the city of Chicago and selling them in his suburb for a wealthy margin where the magazine wasn’t available. Zell continued the lecture with an emphasis on what it takes o be a successful entrepreneur. Many elements where brought up. What really hit home with me is the necessity of confidence in your success and the importance of selling. You could have an amazing product, offering or what have you and never achieve success without the ability to: a. remove the idea of “failing” from your vocab & b. have the ability to sell your product along with the brand that comes with. If you can’t pitch it in three sentences go back to the drawing boards, because in accordance with Zell’s opinion, if you have to give someone the runaround in explaining whats on the plate in front of them they probably aren’t going to eat it. Same goes for selling, whether it be product, service, or yourself.

Along with the importance of selling and the necessity of faith, Zell addressed questions about the power of networking and building relationships. This isn’t anything new to anyone, if you want to be successful you have to put yourself out there and build relationships; nobody’s ever gotten laid by spending each day in their dimly-lite computer room watching internet porn, same goes for the guy with an innovative concept that lacks the skills to build business relationships. There’s a stressed importance in being able to understand people and build relationships that help you network yourself, and now in this age of digital progression its easier than ever to connect with people.

Something mentioned that I really feel rings true to this online setting of marketing interactions is the reality that the longevity of a concept or idea really coincides with success. Too many people on the internet are taking advantage of the social tools at hand to make a quick buck. Sam Zell can be used as an example of what it truely means to be successful seeing that he’s never been employed by anyone other than himself, besides the four-day stent at a law firm in Chicago where he told his executive that last four days were a waste of his time and talent. In the lecture he stated something along the lines of “do you think it was by chance that I oriented my success around real estate?” And the reason being is that real estate is an industry with longevity and foreseen success. You may make money selling gimmick products to overly trusting consumers online, but the idea of becoming a successful entrepreneur entails much more than marketing ploys and monetary figures, its prestige, innovative thought, notable transactions, and a passion to elevate industry.

While the majority of the lecture was focused around what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur, there were a couple questions in reference to the economy and the new administration. I can say one thing for sure, despite the fact that probably 90% of the people in the room voted for Obama nobody was about to say anything. Mr. Zell didn’t come across as reserved one bit while on the topic of politics. In a nutshell, Zell explained his stance on the approach of the new administration as trying to tackle too many things at once and doing so with a risk of increasing debt to overwhelming proportions. In response to questions about the future of the market Zell speculated that we would see a significance decrease in volatility by the end of summer, but not necessarily increases. He supplied good reason, which I failed to write down and choose not to attempt to reiterate.

All in all this was a great presentation. I know there are mixed feelings about Sam Zell and the happenings at the Tribune Co., but like I mentioned earlier he has certainly done more right than wrong. One lesson talked about in the lecture was the risk all entrepreneurs take and while things may not always work out you never fail. Mr. Zell was a great speaker and entertaining. I really plan to take some of the ideals talked about today and apply them to our business venture.

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