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Am I Being Too Subtle?: Straight Talk From a Business Rebel
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Am I Being Too Subtle?: Straight Talk From a Business Rebel

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  1,106 ratings  ·  83 reviews
The traits that make Sam Zell one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs also make him one of the most surprising, enigmatic, and entertaining mavericks in American business.

Self-made billionaire Sam Zell consistently sees what others don’t. From finding a market for overpriced Playboy magazines among his junior high classmates, to buying real estate on the cheap
Kindle Edition, 235 pages
Published May 9th 2017 by Portfolio (first published 2017)
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Amy Nakos
Aug 07, 2017 rated it liked it
My husband suggested that I read this book. He's an entrepreneur in real estate. He loved the story of Sam Zell's journey and his approach to business. I felt like I was listening to my grandfather telling me war stories of the business world. I didn't feel any connection to Zell and I was frankly, bored. I know I could have quit reading the book earlier, but I read most of it and quit on the last chapter. A few good takeaways: 1) give your employees the power and space to talk to you, 2) ...more
Billy Williams
May 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this book.

I had heard of Sam over 25 years ago after reading an article about him in Forbes. Later, I bought Equity Office Property's stock in my IRA over 15 years ago and enjoyed the dividend as well as the stock's performance.

Sam's success has common themes among super-performers like:

He understands his psychology and plays to his strengths and weaknesses.

Believes that value in a company cannot be unlocked without delegation to great people.

Understands that sometimes the best
Christopher Lewis Kozoriz
"The tool kit I use to achieve my end includes the gifts I've been given. There are people who draw. There are people who can sing. And there are people who can dance. I can make money. I see opportunity and convert it into something tangible. The business of making money just comes naturally to me." (Sam Zell, Am I Being Too Subtle?, Page 209)

Written by Billionaire Sam Zell. Some of it was biographical and some of it was business advice. It was cool to get to know this man. He thinks
Marc Fuhrmann
Sep 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Not the most disciplined writing. A lot of repetition of "I believe" "I've always said", etc. In general the theme of the book seems to be "why am i so great". As a result not a lot of real reflection on what could have been learned from a 40 year career as an investor.

That said, some very memorable stories and concise history of the equity business. Instructive for any real estate investor.

Very readable -- got through it on two 2-hour train rides.
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
Didn’t actually finish the book. Hated the writing style and was interested in the story but it was just so meh-ly written. Got bored after a while and wondered why I was forcing myself to read this. Might interest real estate developers a bunch more than me but all in all the sentence structures suck and made me put it down.
Jordan Patrick
Jul 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
Some stories that I would categorize as "okay". I enjoyed the chances he took and the way he navigated getting his first rental units off of the ground.
Jingwei Shi
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the most transparent business books about an interesting and highly intellectual entrepreneur. This is one of the best autobiographies that I have read about entrepreneurship and finance.
Eli Gray
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. Jam packed with insights and advice to apply not only to business but one's life outlook and approach as well.
Rishabh Srivastava
Apr 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
An autobiographical account of an old-school entrepreneur and property mogul. Talks a fair bit about building relationships, negotiations, audacity, and risk-management. A very different take about business than the one that tech entrepreneurs typically have. Had much food for thought (though I did zone out a bit among the details of deal-making in the final few chapters). Highly recommended.

In particular, I loved this quote describing the dangers of taking on distressed assets: "Gravedancing is
entire thoughts
Dec 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: business, biography
There are parts of Sam Zell's story and life that I found truly fascinating and was excited to learn more about, and then there were other parts that left me rather bored and underwhelmed.

The Good:
The beginning of the book was probably the most engaging. Sam recounts how his parents narrowly escaped Poland just before the German invasion in 1939. After a circuitous, twenty-month long journey, Sam's family landed in the United States and rebuilt a successful life. Sam seemed to inherit a healthy
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Being the big dog isn't just a business strategy it's a mindset. Zell moves in and out of investments based off his unique gut and common sense perspective. He's a front line heavy duty real estate player who tells it like it is. He's the kind of guy that will share as long as your not getting a piece of his slice and I can respect that.

Pearls of Wisdom:
Deal opportunities
Master deal maker
I don't like auctions unless I'm running them
Sentimentality to an asset leads to a lack of discipline
Egbert Oostburg
Dec 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Secret to a Deal

Sam is the real deal! His take on business imitates his view of life which is full throttle but with your headlights on and an appreciation for where you're heading.

The son of Jewish immigrants who left Poland and everything behind to escape persecution by Nazis, Sam's early childhood story paints a colorful picture of the tenacity, hard work, and love of family, elements which helped build the US and can still do so today.

The key takeaway for me was to analyze any deal down
Ethan Hulbert
This was an interesting read, but it also left me a little disappointed. I have some background on Mr. Zell, and it's certainly not a background a respectable man would want, but this book (obviously) showed him in a better light. He had a lot of interesting stories and divulged a couple interesting business tips, but seemed to leave out the real good stuff that I was hoping to get into. Glossed right over some of the most interesting parts. Also the title is sorta ironic because nothing in this ...more
Oct 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Far too much of "look at me and see how great I am". Tries to imply he came from a poor immigrant upbringing to become a multi-billionaire real estate mogul. Somehow this poor immigrant is able to accumulate ownership of student rental buildings in his early 20's while attending top colleges. Here's a man who wants us to believe that everything he touches turns to gold and the very few mistakes he ever made turned into triumphs. I don't believe we are getting the true life story of Sam Zell, but ...more
Joe Conley
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I devoured this one from start to finish. Written in very plainspoken language, Zell gives a great overview of his business principles and brings them to life with very colorful stories. I saw many parallels to the way he thinks and the way Buffett/Munger tend to think, including:

- work with strong and smart local operators and get out of their way
- look for situations with big upside/small downside
- finding the root cause of an issue and using that to simplify things (more Munger than Buffett,
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great autobiography-ish book.
Took tons of notes on a very interesting character -
Integrity, forthrightness, Jewish culture, breaking away from the imposed values, zigging when other zag;
The 70s US RE boom and bust
The 80s boom and 90s bust
The changing nature of things - - how technology and demographics can shape entire industries
How the 09 bust was very different
Whether complicated transactions are worth the time and legal spent
3 marriages aint too bad - life still finds a way
Culture and values
Trung Nguyen Dang
Oct 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
The first 9 chapters were so so. Beside the great childhood story where his family avoided the Nazi and made it from Poland to the US, the rest are full of Sam Zell did this did that.

It starts to get insightful from Chapter 10 (Titled Behind the Deals) onwards as Sam reflects and shares his thoughts, his views, and cultures of his firm.

Sam is also too private and does not talk much about his family, his 2 divorces...
Scott Wozniak
Apr 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a classic, rags to riches, American Dream in real life. I enjoyed getting into his head and seeing how he viewed the world and his many deals. Some highlights: It was interesting to see a leader who focused on being the owner/chairman rather than the CEO/manager. His focus on extravagant and themed gifts was inspiring. The comments on understanding the downside of each deal first was strong. And it was entertaining for sure. He's a real character.
Vlad Bezden
Feb 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First time I heart about Sam Zell at Tim Ferriss show. I was impressed with Sam's stories and philosophy, so it wanted to hear more about Sam. So I bought the audio book right away and I finished to listen to it in two days. I could not stop listening to it. There is so much deep philosophy and lessons learned. This book especially will be very interesting to the business, entrepreneurs and especially people who like the history of real estate and economy/politics starting from 1960s.
William Krasne
May 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The best business book I've read this year. Sam Zell is a legendary investor and in this excellent book he details his career and the investing principles that have amassed him a fortune. He talks about simplifying processes, relying on supply / demand dynamics to guide investments, and the importance of organizational culture. Highly, highly recommend this book to anyone interested in business or investing.
Zhang Tao
Nov 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Did not know him before this book, but this is a great read. The name of the introduction is "No BS" and he certainly did just that. He talked a lot about his business success by looking at simple thing like supplies and demand, also the importance of keeping the interest of all the parties involved aligned. It is clear that you can be trained to be better at most things, but Entrepreneurship is not one of those, you either born with this gift or not.
Suresh GV
Jan 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great Book,


1. how to think about negotiations

“always leave something on the table”

2. Each deal is a chance to , Building long term relationship

3. Analyzing the risk and betting big “low risk high returns ”

4. Being prepared or getting out when you sense too much madness in the market

5. Be yourself
Teresa Alici
Jul 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
The most practical business book I’ve read with advice that we can all use specially if we have kids at home.

Sam Zell’s journey gives bullet points on how to raise an adult, what to be afraid of when growing a company and how to know if your priorities are aligned with a purpose.

Also, he writes passionately and it is an easy read, really enjoyed it.
Rohit Nallapeta
Dec 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fun business biography from Sam Zell. His storytelling skills are excellent. You will enjoy the narrative and adventure, his early journey is very interesting. The author puts his philosophy and uses straight talk. He's down to earth and pulls no punches. Reading this will inspire any entrepreneur.
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I did not know much about Sam Zell before starting reading this book, but I was positively surprised. Apparently Sam Zell has a great entrepreneurial character and there are many similarities with Ray Dalio, whose autobiography was published recently.
I learned quite a lot and got inspired to do more good!
Mar 06, 2019 rated it really liked it

A little too inside baseball at times with his explanation of the commercial real estate deals ( I know nothing about the business, so that didn’t help).
Incredible business career and he seems to have followed his basic life principles all the way through.
Bonus points for being a Michigan Man.
Keith Millar
Nov 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: never-open-again
I was looking forward to this book from one of the 1% richest men in America. I expected some really great insights and interesting stories. Sadly I found it as boring as Bat S#$%. I am not sure Sam took his own advice following the 11th Commandment " Thou shall not take yourself too seriously" Alas too late.
Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooked
There is a good deal of rich opinionated guy writes a book here, but it is worth listening to those bits on 2x speed to get parts about his different real estate deals, and insights about business and life. Also, Sam’s family background set-up in the first chapter has to be the most riveting famous business guy family bio ever...
sarah schmid
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing

Loved it. Would highly recommend. He's a great role model in both life and business. If I was a young person getting out if school i would want to work for him more than anywhere .
Stanley G
Dec 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very insightful, especially on the need to have your values and integrity in business. Sam talks of consistency and the need to maintain long-term relationship to succeed in business. It's a good book for anyone in or interested in entrepreneurship.
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Entrepreneur Book...: Am I Being Too Subtle? - July, 2017 3 33 Aug 02, 2017 08:03AM  

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“Risk is the ultimate differentiator. I have always had a deep and complex relationship with it. I am not a reckless person, but taking risks is really the only way to consistently achieve above-average returns—in life as well as in investments. My father proved that when he left Poland. I am probably more comfortable with risk than most people. That’s because I do as much as I can to understand it. To me, risk-taking rests on the ability to see all the variables and then identify the ones that will make or break you.” 3 likes
“Shortly before we closed the deal, Randy Michaels and Terry Jacobs, who were running Jacor, came to me to finance the acquisition of a Denver station. Jacor already owned one of the other FM stations in Denver, and this one was losing money and available cheap. They showed up in Chicago carrying a thick book of details, prepared to make their pitch. “This is a great deal,” Randy assured me. He thumped the book on the table, ready to take me through it. “Wait a minute,” I said. “Do you understand the scope of the deal—why we should buy it?” “Yes,” he replied. “All the details are right here in this book.” He added that he and Terry had worked feverishly night and day to prepare it. I picked up the book and tossed it into a corner of my office, where it landed with a thud. Randy and Terry stared at me wide-eyed. “If you really understand it, you don’t need a book,” I said. “You could put it on a single piece of paper.” They looked uncertain. “I assume this says things are going to be great, right?” They nodded. “What happens if you’re wrong? How do I get out of the room?” “What do you mean?” Randy asked. “How bad can it get?” “Well,” he said, “it’s pretty bad now, and if we fail to fix it you could lose some operating capital. But I don’t see a station in Denver ever being worth less than $4 million. I mean, the building, the transmitter—the physical assets alone are worth close to that.” “Okay, great. How good could it get?” The answer, in short, was very good. So I said, “Go do it.” 0 likes
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