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How an Entrepreneur Looks at the World

People often ask me who are some of the most fascinating people I’ve interviewed.

I would put Sam Zell on that list.

Sam is the billionaire Chairman of Equity Group Investments well known for calling the top in real estate when he sold $39 billion worth of office properties to Blackstone in 2007. He is also equally well known for taking over the Chicago Tribune that same year and overseeing its demise into bankruptcy only a short time later.

Needless to say, he’s a polarizing figure – and he likes it.

Sitting in his penthouse apartment one spring afternoon in Manhattan, Sam gave me a true glimpse into how he – a serial entrepreneur – sees the world.

“The ultimate definition of an entrepreneur is someone who is always thinking he can do things a different, better way. If he walks down the street and sees a painter on a ladder, he thinks, ‘Gee, if he’d moved the ladder to the middle of the wall, then he could paint both sides without having to go up and down the ladder as many times,’” he said. “I can’t tell you why I think that way, but that’s literally the way I think all the time. It’s always been that way. I look at things and see them differently than other people do.”


He recounted all the different business ventures he started from the time he was in grade school, which eventually led to his investments in everything from rail car leasing to bicycles to food additive manufacturing. Last year, Forbes ranked him as the 103rd richest man in America.

“I’m very much like a private equity guy is today except that I’ve always been a private equity guy – with my own private equity!” he said.

But what really struck me was what Sam observed about big companies. There was one major difference, he said, between the way workers behaved in a major corporation versus an entrepreneurial one. He called it using “information as currency.”

“I hired this woman from a major corporation, and she was very, very smart. But I fired her within nine months. I promise you this woman had never been fired in her life; she was a major overachiever. But she brought an element from her past job in the corporate world that didn’t fit with our culture. She used information as currency. The most important thing about an entrepreneurial world is that the enemy is without, not within. I can’t have an employee who holds back information for political reasons or unless they are going to get something in return. We operate in a much too fast-paced environment for that kind of internal trading. In a big corporation, almost everything moves slowly so you have more time and opportunity to catch mistakes. That culture often breeds using information as currency. In an entrepreneurial culture, if somebody has information that they’re not sharing with others in my shop, that means that I’m taking risks that I don’t know about.”

If you’re an entrepreneur, you know what he’s talking about. If you work for a major corporation, you likely also know what he’s talking about. Those behaviors, if they’re not rooted out quickly, breed organizations where silos develop, political infighting balloons and inefficiencies overcome productivity.

Sam, of course, looking relaxed in his black shirt and jeans, was beyond many of those problems already. One of the biggest issues for him now, he said, was how to give his money away in the most meaningful way.

One program he funded was helping create entrepreneurs in Israel – people just like him.

“They call themselves the Zell-lots!” he said.


Betty Liu is Editor-at-Large and host of “In the Loop” on Bloomberg Television. Her latest book, Work Smarts: What CEOs Say You Need to Know to Get Ahead, is available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and other major booksellers. You can subscribe to her newsletter at http://www.betty-liu.com.





Posted by:Betty Liu


Robots Run On Love

A message from the future courtesy of a psychic

My psychic initiation was a bitch. I was talking to a friend on the phone and she was saying that I was on drugs. I wasn’t on drugs. I had done lots of drugs in my past. This was the present. And I was getting messages from the mutherfucking future.

“What drug can do this?” I asked at the time. “I just got told I was inserted into this timeline to show weird scary future robot people how we loved each other in 2013 and you keep showing them fear and hate.”

I was sweating. I was panicking. I was walking through the streets of downtown Chicago and the world looked like a movie set with a shitty budget. Everything looked so fake. I could see the strings on the birds in the air flapping their puppet wings.

I got arrested that night, I got put in a hospital. I always had enough food and money. I took cab rides. I talked to people. I hope there is footage of the night I was in jail.

I was put in jail for the night and screamed myself to death. Literally, I felt I died. Everything looked and felt so real even though I knew it was fake.

I will share this one vignette with you. Because they all were like little stories to me. I was in the cell and I was looking through the window in the door.

I had been screaming for someone to let me out and I saw a couple of guys with a tripod who were taking my picture. (And I am getting chills as I write this by the way) The camera was very old-fashioned and it sat on top of a modern tripod.

The guys were dressed in modern fashion. They were very good-looking and had the appearance of being male models. Perfect hair, perfect skin. Tight white t-shirts and white slacks. They looked like angels without wings.

I thought they were documenting this because at this point I felt I was going to die in jail. They took my picture several times and I was comforted thinking that people would know what happened to me. But then they took the heavy camera off the tripod and a hole opened up in the floor.

And they dropped the camera in the hole.

Then one of the guys waved goodbye at me and blew me a kiss and jumped in the hole the horror dawning on me. These were angels, but they had been stripped of their wings. And they were taking pictures of the “new guy” and I felt I was in hell. I screamed at the remaining guy, tears streaming down my cheeks. I cannot explain to you the horror. The hopeless horror that this is your existence forever.

The downgraded angel made mocking sobbing motions with his fists up next to his eyes and then he laughed and pointed at me. He picked up the tripod and chucked it into the hole. And after giving me a wave, he jumped in the hole as well as it sealed up behind him.

That night I felt what it was like to die. As I lay on the floor of that cell, I held on as long as I could. I saw the veins in my eyes, I felt the blood stiffen in my veins, and I saw my “light” go out. And in some way, some part of me did die that night. A part I didn’t need anymore.

And even as you are reading this, the robots from the future are learning what it was like to love.

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Further Reading

How my homage to Chicago legend Wesley Willis sent me on a “Warhellride”

 — I am so sorry. I need to make an apology to almost everyone in my life and maybe like 25,000 people in Chicago. I’m a Satirist, not just …

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I am a man with two brains. One in this world and one on the other side.