Mastering the metropolis through research and thought leadership.

Dear Zell/Lurie Center Supporters:

It is with a heavy heart that I note the passing of Sam Zell, a real estate industry and investment legend, and of course, our founding patron. One learned much about Sam from the name of our Center. It is the Zell/Lurie Real Estate Center at the Wharton School, not the Sam Zell Real Estate Center at the Wharton School. Robert Lurie died well before Sam’s incredibly generous endowment gift in 1997, but Sam put Bob Lurie’s name on the Center because the two had been such close partners in their business lives. We have always been proud it is this way.

Sam’s influence on the real estate industry was incredibly broad and deep. He did not invent REITs, but they were never the same after he entered that sector. He thought and invested globally before that became standard. The Equity Group has a wonderful statement that you can read here on what Sam meant to his colleagues there and to the real estate industry more broadly. What is less well known is how much he changed the academic side of real estate. I learned quite a bit about how Sam thought about making an investment from how he perceived his gift to us and his hopes for how we would use it. Sam’s endowment came with virtually no strings attached. He never joined our Advisory Board Executive Committee, much less chaired it. That was not his goal. He wanted us to use his gift to build a great real estate program at Wharton—one that would encourage others in the industry to contribute to enhancing our programs beyond what his gift allowed us to accomplish, as well as encourage other schools to mimic our successes.

He was as prescient in this investment in the academy as he was in any of his real estate ventures over his half-century-long career. Our program now prides itself on helping train the future leadership of the industry, conducting frontier research on real estate issues, and bringing industry, faculty and students together to learn from one another. I am more than a little biased in thinking we do it best here at the Zell/Lurie Center. In fact, there are other excellent competitor programs out there, and they were funded by many of Sam’s friends and colleagues in the real estate industry. The next time you hire one of our or their students, say a word of thanks to Sam. He inspired many beyond Wharton.

Sam may never have wanted to direct our advisory board, but he was an energetic participant in all parts of our real estate program. Over three decades, he gave innumerable lectures to students in our Real Estate Department classes. Quite a few of our students recognized his talks as providing the best insight they received about risk evaluation throughout their Wharton careers. Many of our industry supporters felt the same way about Sam’s numerous conversations with Barry Sternlicht at our Spring Members’ Meetings. Sam influenced our students, faculty and industry supporters in so many ways beyond his wonderful financial gift.

I will miss Sam’s generosity, brilliance, and infectious spirit. And, we will do our best to ensure that his bet on us redounds to the real estate industry’s benefit for generations to come.


Joe Gyourko
Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger Director
Zell/Lurie Real Estate Center at the Wharton School