On May 18, the most legendary investor that I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting face to face passed away at the age of 81.

One of the best things about my job is meeting with successful businessmen and women who inspire me and enhance my approach to intelligent investing.

It would be difficult for me to put together a top 10 list of people I’ve met – speaking with these incredible individuals has been an absolute honor that’s taught me so much.

But if we narrowed that list down to just one person? I’d have a name in no time flat.

Sam Zell was a real estate legend who shook the industry countless times to make his billions.

Zell was – and still is – one of my all-time investing heroes. And he’s left a legacy we can model to build our own wealth, even in these trying times.

At Intelligent Income Daily, we’re focused on finding the safest income-producing investments on the market. And we do so by following the tried-and-tested strategies of the greatest investors of our time.

So today, I want to honor Zell’s legacy and share his wealth-building strategy, which landed him the title, “the Grave Dancer.”

“Bearded and Blunt-Spoken”

There are a lot of obituaries you can find on Zell’s passing. The ones I’ve seen have done a good job at honoring such a great investor.

But this paragraph from the Associated Press stood out especially to me thanks to its first line. All it needed to add, I think, was something about Zell’s range of facial expressions, including his wizened, attention-grabbing smile.

Bearded and blunt-spoken, Zell reveled in bucking traditional wisdom. He had a golden touch with real estate and got his start managing apartment buildings as a college student. By the time he reached his 70s, he had amassed a fortune estimated at $3.8 billion.

I got to meet this absolute character in 2021 right as I was publishing my last book, The Intelligent REIT Investor Guide.


(Sam Zell and Brad Thomas in October 2021)

He had endorsed it already, writing:

The simple genius of public REITs is that they turn bricks and mortar into transparent and predictable liquid assets. Since they tend to pay high dividends, REITs can serve as a terrific addition to an investment portfolio. Thomas’ book helps break down this asset class for the average person, making REITs more understandable and therefore more accessible to everyone.

I was thrilled that an idol of mine had written such a tribute. And then I got to meet him!

I know I sound completely starstruck, but come on… How would you feel if you met your hero?

A Memory Worth Holding Onto

Zell made a name for himself buying up distressed assets, then turning them around for big-time profits.

In other words, the companies he bought had one foot in the grave, then he would come along with spring in his step and buy them right before they came back to life.

And that’s how he got his nickname, “the Grave Dancer.”

He “danced” all the way until his passing, always on the lookout for the next highly profitable new deal.

And all he did was follow a simple strategy in his acquisitions.

He looked for flagging companies that needed some TLC (tender loving care) – whether it was capital or marketing or new leadership – to grow great again. He did his research, he crunched his numbers, and he came to his conclusions.

His vision wasn’t perfect, mind you. None are. And he did find himself on the losing end of an investment more than once. But he passed away with a net worth of $5.2 billion.

So he clearly had more victories than he did defeats. Quite a lot more.

In the investing game, that’s what we strive for: a successful track record that helps us live long and full lives with financial confidence.

To quote Equity Group Investments, the company he chaired:

Sam Zell was a self-made, visionary entrepreneur. He launched and grew hundreds of companies during his 60-plus-year career and created countless jobs. Although his investments spanned industries across the globe, he was most widely recognized for his critical role in creating the modern real estate investment trust, which today is a more than $4 trillion industry.

Can you now see why I have such a high opinion of him?

Long live the memory of Zell and his impressive investment approaches. With that goal in mind, I’ve decided to dedicate my new book, REITs for Dummies (due out this summer), to him.

The dedication will be something like this:

To Sam Zell, an investor worth emulating. Thanks for providing such an amazing example of how to turn commercial real estate into something to talk about. May you rest in peace.

Happy SWAN (sleep well at night) investing,

Brad Thomas
Editor, Intelligent Income Daily

P.S. The last time I met Zell, I spoke to him about an asset class that’s a favorite for both of us. It’s helped us grow our wealth for years… And right now, there’s more demand (and less supply) for it than ever before.

In the past, you needed to have millions to get started. But I’ve found a way for regular folks to invest in it – right from your brokerage account and starting from around $10 per share.

I just released a special presentation where I talk about it for the first time outside of a group of select readers. To find out more about it, make sure to watch to the end and learn everything you need to know.