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Tap Dancer

Among all of the stunning news over the past three months, one of the most astounding was yesterday’s announcement that Sam Zell put the Tribune Co. into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Zell has been renowned for his knack in turnarounds and big hits–most recently, the sale of Equity Office in 2007 to Blackstone at the absolute top of the market. Zell made his mark as a contrarian, known as the “grave dancer” for buying properties at depressed prices in the early 1990′s, a particularly bad time for the US real estate market. Unfortunately for Sam, it appears that he acquired the Tribune Co. on the slide, with print media in the tank because of the steep decline of print advertising, coupled with the recession and rise in digital media. Zell loaded the company with debt when he acquired it in 2007, and today, it is the heavy debt load that triggered the bankruptcy filing. Sam should have stuck to his knitting and kept his eye on real estate, where he could have tap danced through another opportunistic cycle.

Tony LoPinto is CEO of Equinox Partners, an executive search firm specializing in the real estate industry, and parent company of SelectLeaders. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
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