When Sam Zell was asked Wednesday about the highly charged topic of gender diversity and the #MeToo movement, he responded in a way that only Sam Zell would.
The chairman of Equity Group Investments said he had promoted women based on merit. “I never promoted a woman because she was a woman. 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,” he said at the REITweek investor conference.
He then added: “I don’t think there’s ever been a, ‘We gotta get more pussy on the block, OK?’”
The audience, Bloomberg reported, reacted with gasps and laughter.
As if sensing how his comment would be received, the 76-year-old then said: “Those things can get me in trouble, right?”
“If I said that, I’d be in more trouble,” Steven Wechsler, CEO of the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts and the conference’s organizer, replied.
According to Bloomberg, Zell’s Equity Lifestyle Properties Inc. has a female CEO, Marguerite Nader. And Debra Cafaro, CEO of Ventas Inc., has said Zell has encouraged her throughout her career. Zell has a reputation, however, for being irreverent, frequently peppering his speech with profanity and politically-incorrect statements. During a television interview in March, Zell mentioned offhandedly that “all women are good looking.”
He was also thrust into controversy – though not of his own doing – during a panel in September 2016, when his interviewer, Peter Linneman, made racist remarks about Chinese men while the two were onstage.
Real estate hasn’t been immune to the #MeToo movement, which has rocked the entertainment and media industries. The Real Deal examined the gender gap in real estate in a cover story in January 2018.[Bloomberg] — E.B. Solomont