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Samuel Zell, Founder of Equity LifeStyle Properties, Passes Away at 81

Samuel Zell, the iconic founder and chairman of Equity Residential and several companies such as Equity Lifestyle Properties, passed away today at the age of 81, leaving behind a transformative legacy in the real estate and outdoor hospitality industry. 

His work with REITs, particularly Equity Lifestyle Properties, revolutionized the sector by democratizing the ownership of publicly traded real estate companies, including those in the outdoor hospitality industry.

“Sam leaves the real estate industry and the business community mourning the loss of a distinctive and generous mentor and an unparalleled leader who generously offered time and attention to develop those around him,” ELS President & CEO Marguerite Nader said.

“He established an entrepreneurial culture focused on excellence, value creation, skilled and empowered teams and, most importantly, doing the right thing. He was a visionary who trusted his own sensibilities.” She also added, “Family was the cornerstone of Sam’s life. He will be missed as a husband, father, brother and grandfather.”

The company has also appointed Thomas Heneghan to serve as chairman of the board of directors. 

Heneghan has served as the vice chairman of the board of directors since May 2018 and was co-vice chairman from 2013 to 2018. He served as CEO of the company from January 2004 to February 2013.

“Sam was uniquely comfortable being himself, even if it meant forging his own path. He was an incredible role model and made those around him better for the experience. His legacy 

speaks for itself and will echo well into the future,” Heneghan said.

The Legacy of Samuel Zell

Zell founded Equity Residential while a student at the University of Michigan and guided its growth into a highly regarded $31-billion apartment owner, developer, and operator, and an S&P 500 member. 

He also served as chairman of Equity Lifestyle Properties, a REIT focused on manufactured home communities and RV resorts. His role in both companies demonstrates a unique entrepreneurial spirit that could inspire private campground owners​​.

The REIT structure, popularized by Zell in the 1990s, allowed individual investors to participate in the ownership of large, income-producing real estate portfolios. Equity Lifestyle Properties is a prime example of the effectiveness of this structure in the outdoor hospitality industry, offering a new way to structure their businesses and bring in a wider range of investors for private campground owners.

Under Zell’s leadership, both Equity Residential and Equity Lifestyle Properties employed various strategies that led to their substantial growth. These strategies, from the cultivation of high-quality long-term renters to the focus on dynamic cities and attractive outdoor destinations, could be adapted by private campground owners, creating new avenues for expansion and profitability.

Beyond his business endeavors, Zell was an active philanthropist with a focus on entrepreneurial education. He established several leading entrepreneurship programs, signifying his belief in the power of education and the entrepreneurial spirit. 

The life and work of Samuel Zell provide valuable lessons for private campground owners. His innovative approach to real estate, his championing of the REIT structure, his leadership in the outdoor hospitality industry through Equity Lifestyle Properties, and his dedication to entrepreneurial education all serve as inspiration. 

As the industry remembers Samuel Zell, private campground owners can honor his legacy by embracing innovation, considering new ownership structures, and committing to continual learning and adaptation.

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February 17, 2024 10:11 pm

Isn’t it hilarious that Samuel Zell was often called the Whimsical Wizard due to his knack for successful investments in distressed properties? And get this: he once tried to buy the Chicago Cubs baseball team for the price of a muffin! His business escapades were as entertaining as a sitcom. His legacy will surely be remembered.


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Hi, you might find this article from Modern Campground interesting: Samuel Zell, Founder of Equity LifeStyle Properties, Passes Away at 81! This is the link: https://moderncampground.com/usa/samuel-zell-founder-of-equity-lifestyle-properties-passes-away-at-81/