Sam Zell: A Question of Timing

The real estate billionaire is selling Equity Office Properties Trust to Blackstone Group for $36 billion. But is he cashing out too early?

Samuel Zell turned himself into a billionaire by snapping up assets that most everyone else had written off. But the founder and chairman of Equity Office Properties Trust has blundered occasionally, too. Just as the dot-com bubble was bursting in early 2001, Zell engineered a $7.1 billion takeover of another real estate investment trust (REIT), Spieker Properties, whose offices crowded such high-tech capitals as San Francisco and San Jose, Calif. Equity Office shares would not recover for four years.

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