The New Yorker profiled Sam Zell in its most recent issue.
Most interesting in the piece are details of Zell's recent meetings with Sheikh Tahnoon in Abu Dhabi, who's planning to build an entire city from scratch on an island.
The neighboring emirate of Dubai has become famous for its devotion to the superlative: it has one of the world's largest indoor ski slopes, and is constructing the world's tallest building and largest shopping mall. Abu Dhabi, with far greater oil reserves and a more conservative, religious population, has proceeded more deliberately. Sheikh Tahnoon was eager to hear what Zell thought of his development plans. Accompanied by a small entourage, the two men drove to a hotel and entered a conference room dominated by a model so vast that it nearly filled the space. Sheikh Tahnoon led Zell around the structure, pointing to office towers, malls, hotels, schools, hospitals, apartment buildings, and houses. The towers would be built first, he explained. Zell listened intently, scrutinizing the model. Finally, he spoke. “Pardon me, Your Highness, but I have a reputation for being direct,” he said. “This makes no sense!”