Maybe Not a Role Model for a B-School?

Amid criticism of invitation to Sam Zell, widely criticized for his leadership in publishing and his sexist statements about women, UCLA calls off his appearance.

October 26, 2018
 
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Sam Zell

The University of California, Los Angeles, canceled an event scheduled for Thursday featuring Sam Zell, a controversial billionaire, due to “unforeseen circumstances.”

The UCLA Real Estate Alumni Group and the Office of Alumni Relations teamed up to invite Zell to appear at the UCLA Anderson School of Businesses.

Prior to the cancellation, journalists expressed their disappointment with the university's decision to invite Zell. In 2007, Zell bought the Tribune Company -- the media conglomerate that owns the Chicago Tribune, The Orlando Sentinel and many other media outlets across the country (and that used to own the Los Angeles Times) -- and famously bankrupted the company in 2008, resulting in hundreds of layoffs. Many journalists blame him for those layoffs and generally for eroding the quality of some of the best newspapers in the country. He was also notorious for making lewd comments to or about women.

“Dear @uclaanderson you cannot be serious. Are you gonna have Sam Zell give tips on how to pillage and destroy newspapers while saying untoward things about women?” Carolina Miranda, a columnist at the Los Angeles Times, tweeted.

“He was a nightmare of an owner,” Blair Kamin, architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune, tweeted in response to Miranda’s comment. “He hired idiot misogynists and put them in positions of power. We were thrilled to be done with him.”

Steve Marble, the assistant editor to the foreign and national desk at the Times, also told a story about an instance in which Zell asked employees at the Times to send him their favorite porn websites.

The UCLA webpage for the event touts Zell's accomplishments and his "long track record of turning around troubled companies and assets." It also notes Zell's role as chairman of Equity Group Investments, a private investment firm he founded 45 years ago, and his high-level positions within a number of other real estate investment companies.

"Eager to engage and inspire the next generation of real estate professionals, Mr. Zell will share his insights from his experience as an entrepreneur in the real estate industry, reflecting on shifts in the market between his early career and now. Mr. Zell will also dive into the fundamentals and philosophies that made him a self-made billionaire," the event page read.

This past summer, Zell had been slated to be the keynote speaker at the Mizuho Global REIT and Real Estate Conference in New York, but he was cut from the schedule after making a vulgar comment about women at a Nareit real estate conference in June.

"I never promoted a woman because she was a woman," Zell said, according to CNN. "I never demoted a woman because she was a woman. My issue is what do you do, what do you produce, how do you interrelate to the rest of the business. I don't think there's ever been a, 'We gotta get more pussy on the block, OK?'"

Zell later apologized to attendees for the remark. Elise Anderson, director of media relations for the UCLA school of management, would not elaborate on why the event was canceled or when it will be rescheduled.

“I think it’s perfectly clear on the invitation that it’s been rescheduled due to unforeseen circumstances,” she said.

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