Bloomberg Billionaires Index

View profiles for each of the world’s 500 richest people, see the biggest movers, and compare fortunes or track returns.

# 395 Sam Zell $5.23B

Random fact: Takes motorcycle trips with a group of friends called Zell's Angels.


Zell is the founder and chairman of Equity Group Investments, a Chicago-based investment firm. The closely held business has stakes in publicly traded wiring-parts maker Anixter; waste-energy company Covanta; and real estate investment trusts Equity Residential, Equity Lifestyle Properties and Equity Commonwealth.

As of :
Last change -$51.3M ( -1.0%)
YTD change +$39.7M ( +0.8%)
Industry Real Estate
Biggest asset Cash
Citizenship United States
Age 78
Wealth Self-made
View net worth over:   Max 1 year 1 quarter 1 month 1 week

Relative Value

Sam Zell's net worth of $5.23B can buy ...

troy ounces of gold
barrels of crude oil

... and is equivalent to ...

of the GDP of the United States
of the total wealth of the 500 richest people in the world
of the top 100 U.S. college endowments
of the top 200 U.S. executives’ total awarded compensation
of U.S. existing home sales
times the median U.S. household income

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Net Worth Summary

Private asset
Public asset
Misc. liabilities
Confidence rating:

Zell owns Chicago-based Equity Group Investments, a closely held investment firm. He is also the chairman and co-founder of three real estate investment trusts: Equity Residential, Equity Lifestyle and Equity Commonwealth.

The value of his private equity interests have been included in his cash balance since June 14, 2018, along with dividends, market performance, insider transactions and taxes, including proceeds from the sale of Equity Office Properties to the Blackstone Group for $39 billion and his $315 million loss on the buyout of Tribune in 2007.

Zell also holds stakes in publicly traded companies operating in the property, energy and communication industries, which he owns through Delaware-based trusts established for the benefit of his family. The holdings include common units which are convertible into ordinary shares and exclude the net value of the options he holds, which are counted separately. The billionaire also owns an art collection and real estate.


Birthdate: 9/28/1941
Family: Married, 3 children
Education: University of Michigan, University of Michigan Law School

Sam Zell was born in September 1941. His father, Bernard Zielonka, was working as a grain broker in western Poland in August 1939 when he learned that the Nazis and the Soviet Union had signed a treaty that would allow Germany to invade the country. With his wife and daughter, Zielonka boarded a train heading east the following day.

They travelled through Asia for eighteen months, sailing from Japan to Seattle and arriving in the U.S. in May 1941. The family settled in Chicago and changed their last name to Zell. While an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan, Zell started a business that managed student rental apartments. He graduated with a law degree in 1966 and started Equity Group Investments two years later. He was later joined by a fraternity brother, Bob Lurie. The two remained partners until Lurie's death in 1990.

The business became the genesis for a collection of equity and distressed debt funds and private-equity firms such as Equity International, which invests in property companies in emerging markets. It also spawned three real estate investment trusts, including Equity Residential, the largest apartment owner in the U.S., Equity Office Properties, the largest office owner in the country, and Equity Lifestyle, which manufactures home and resort communities.

Zell sold Equity Office to Blackstone Group for $39 billion in 2007, which was the largest leveraged buyout ever at that time. The same year, he orchestrated an $8.3 billion leveraged buyout of the Tribune media company, owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times newspapers, which went into bankruptcy and cost Zell more than $300 million. He became chairman of the Commonwealth REIT in 2014 after the trust's executive officers were ousted by shareholders.

  • 1939 Family flees Poland, one day before Nazi invasion.
  • 1941 Sam Zell is born in Chicago to a wholesale jewelry distributor.
  • 1964 Buys first building while attending law school.
  • 1968 Starts Equity Group Investments in Chicago.
  • 1993 Equity Residential begins trading in New York.
  • 1997 Equity Office Properties begins trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
  • 1999 Starts Equity International, which invests in businesses outside the U.S.
  • 2015 Donates $60 million to University of Michigan.