Former ELS CEO Promoted at Sam Zell’s Investment Firm
Billionaire investor Sam Zell has rearranged leadership at the top of his investment firm, hiring David Helfand and naming him and William Pate co-presidents of Equity Group Investments, The Chicago Tribune reported.
Helfand was previously CEO of Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc. (ELS), the nation’s leading manufactured housing and RV park developer. ELS is a publicly traded company Zell founded.
In an interview, Zell, 70, said that Helfand’s expertise in real estate and Pate’s expertise in corporate acquisitions and management is the mix the firm needs. David Contis previously led Zell’s real estate investments. He left the company last year to lead the mall group at Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group.
Zell said succession planning has been discussed. He said he knew who would succeed him should he be unable to work but declined to say who that would be.
“I don’t think that’s relevant to your readers,” he replied.
Zell has mentored Helfand for more than 20 years. Helfand is the son-in-law of real estate investor Neil Bluhm.
“My history is based on two pillars: real estate and corporate,” Zell said. Helfand and Pate have “very deep depth in one or the other, and the two of them together are one plus one equals six.”
Pate’s previous title was managing director, although many sources describe him as Zell’s chief investment officer. (“I would not know the title of anybody who works for me,” Zell said with some hyperbole, when asked why he created the position of co-president.) Pate has been with Equity Group Investments since 1994 and in the chief investment role since 2000.
He is on the board of several of Zell’s holdings, including Covanta, Exterran, Wapiti Oil & Gas and Tribune Co., the parent company of the Chicago Tribune. Zell is chairman of Tribune Co.
Helfand is joining the firm from Helix Funds, a $2 billion real estate management company he founded and managed for nine years. A subsidiary, Riverside Communities, is a large owner of manufactured home communities.
Coming with Helfand from Helix, which remains in operation, is David Weinberg, who previously worked for Zell’s Equity Office Properties, which the Blackstone Group acquired in 2007. Weinberg will be an Equity Group Investments managing director.
Zell repeated his mantras that he would be “chairman of everything, CEO of nothing” and that retirement was not in his “lexicon.”
“The reality is that I’ve spent a lot of time with David, even during the years he wasn’t working for me,” Zell said. “I’ve probably spent more time with David than any individual in my organization, and it was a natural evolution for us to keep talking about different stuff and how I wanted to move on.”
Zell was listed No. 66 on the Forbes magazine list of U.S. billionaires.