University alum Sam Zell donates $60 million to Ross School of Business

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 - 3:50pm

The Zell Family Foundation donated $60 million to the Ross School of Business Monday morning. This donation will bring the Zell family’s total contributions to the University to over $150 million.

The donation is set to fund and expand entrepreneurship programs at the Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. The Institute was founded in 1999 after the Zell Family Foundation and the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Family Foundation donated $10 million to the University.

Samuel Zell graduated with a Bachelor of Art’s degree from the University in 1963, and then from the University’s law school in 1966.

Currently, Zell is the chairman of Equity Group Investments, the private investment firm he founded in 1967 while he was a student at the University’s law school. Two years later, he asked Lurie, his , to be his partner in the company. The two went on to be business partners for over twenty years, until Lurie’s death in 1990.

Equity Group Investments sparked the conception of many other business ventures for Zell, including Equity Residential, the largest apartment owner in the country; Equity Office Properties Trust, the largest office owner in the country; and Equity Lifestyle, an owner/operator of resort and home communities.

Stewart Thornhill, executive director of the Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, said that while the amount of programs it offers for students is already quite vast, this donation will allow the program to benefit more students.

“We’ll be able to accommodate more students with more resources, mentors, awards, space… taking the best things we currently have now and making them even better and bigger and more accessible is one key impact (of the donation),” Thornhill said.

Business school dean Alison Davis-Blake said $10 million of Zell’s donation will be specifically allocated to investing in Ross students’ business ventures.

According to Thornhill, this piece of the donation will greatly impact student entrepreneurs and the city of Ann Arbor alike. He said the University’s future investments in student startups will help keep them and their ideas in the Ann Arbor area.

“We’ll be able to start investing in those student companies to give them a chance to get up and running as quickly as possible and have them here in Ann Arbor, meaning that they don’t have to leave the area and seek funding elsewhere and potentially take those new ventures away from the area,” Thornhill said.

According to The Princeton Review’s and Entrepreneur magazine’s rankings for 2015, the University currently has the 18th best undergraduate program and the 3rd best graduate program for an entrepreneurship education in the country.

In 1927, the University became the first school in the country to offer a course in entrepreneurship. It was also the first to instil a student-led venture fund, the Wolverine Venture Fund, in 1997.

In 2011, Zell created the Zell Entrepreneurship and Law program at the University’s law school. The program offers free legal advice to student entrepreneurs and provides training for law students looking to work in the entrepreneurship field.

In 2013, Zell’s wife, University alum and philanthropist Helen Zell, donated $50 million to the University’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts to fund the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program through the Zell Family Foundation.

Thornhill said the Zell family’s most recent donation to the University will attract more young companies to the midwest.

“This investment in the Midwest speaks volumes to Sam’s commitment to seeing entrepreneurship develop in the Midwest, in Michigan in particular, and around the University of Michigan system–getting away from the idea that you have to go to California or you have to be in Boston to be in a vibrant startup community,” Thornhill said.