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Sam Zell: not your typical tycoon

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Brusque Chicagoan Sam Zell made his billions by timing the real estate market. So until recently, only the business press paid much attention to him, his motorcycle and his elaborate holiday gift-giving.

Now that he’s a media mogul, having bought such venerable newspapers as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Newsday in a package deal, the glare of the media spotlight has swung upon Zell like the Eye of Sauron in Tolkien’s fantasy “legendarium.”

Under that hot light, Zell’s leadership style is illuminated:
  • He’s plain-spoken. He says things like, “I have no intention of selling the LA Times. Period. End of speech.” Asked if he might take the Tribune public, he says, “Never even crossed my mind.”

  • He exercises restraint. On whether he will use the newspapers to express his political views, Zell says “absolutely not.” He adds that while he’s obviously not averse to saying what he thinks, he didn’t buy the newspapers as a soapbox.

  • He’s got a life. Asked how it feels to cut such a different figure from other newspaper owners, Zell says, “Fine. I’d be even happier if nobody had an opinion at all and they just left me alone. I mean, this is not a dress rehearsal. I have only one life to lead. And I have to allocate my time to do what I like. And in my private time, I like doing a lot of stuff, and I just do it. And maybe it’s not the same as everybody else, but that’s OK.”
—Adapted from “Sam Zell, Media Mogul,” Maria Bartiromo, BusinessWeek.

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