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Am I Being Too Subtle? By Sam Zell

August 15, 2017

Sam Zell’s autobiography, “Am I Being Too Subtle?” is a must read for anyone that is involved in real estate investing, business acquisitions or who wants to become an entrepreneur.

The book was recommended by my son Rick who is a stock trader and when I finished it I asked him why he read it. He told me that Sam is a very wealthy deal maker with many opinions he agrees with, so he thought he would enjoy the book, which he did. I read it because Rick loaned it to me. I could not put it down and highly recommend it.

I have my own interests, just as Rick has his and everyone else, theirs. I particularly liked the entrepreneurial aspects Zell wrote about and want to share some of his principles.

  • Sam’s fundamentals of business are understanding supply and demand, that liquidity equals value, and good corporate governance and reliable partners are essential
  • Be grounded and pragmatic, recognize a sense of responsibility, and have a shem tov
  • Shem tov is a Yiddish expression that means to have a good name – be a man of your word, do what’s right, do not lie – be a mensch
  • Where there are partners, transparency and the alignment of interests are absolutes
  • When there is scarcity, price is no object
  • Basic tenets of business risk: A big downside and small upside should be avoided. Look for a big upside and small downside
  • Zell refers to William Zeckendorf’s autobiography where Zeckendorf viewed assets as a sum of parts where the value of the whole could be increased using various parts that would be more valuable to different buyers
  • Entrepreneurs need vision, direction, strategy, confidence, optimism, conviction, courage, initiative and creativity and then they need to do something. Without execution, nothing happens

There are many more gems and to get the full flavor of them and everything else he wrote about and Sam’s sagacity, please read the book.

Books are rated highly by me if they are an easy read, are interesting, lets me empathize with the author who also serves as a role model, inspires me, teaches me, and provides and provokes ideas. This book did all these. I also like knowing how successful people got started – he is a self-made man worth $5 billion according to Forbes. Read it! You’ll like it!

Do you want a recognize an entrepreneur in your network? Withum is currently accepting nominations for our Entrepreneurial Strength Award! Using social media, simply nominate an entrepreneur and use #StrengthStory and tag @withumcpa! A member of our team will follow up with you for more details. Nominations are due August 22! For additional information, please visit

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