Sam Zell’s Secret New Year’s Gift: ‘The Emperor Has No Clothes’

We hate to expose Sam Zell, the billionaire entrepreneur who bought then gutted then bankrupted the Tribune Company. But when we learned that the once-junkyard king had just a few years back given a bronze statue to his closest friends with the prediction that a clothesless emperor was on the horizon, we felt it our […]

We hate to expose Sam Zell, the billionaire entrepreneur who bought then gutted then bankrupted the Tribune Company. But when we learned that the once-junkyard king had just a few years back given a bronze statue to his closest friends with the prediction that a clothesless emperor was on the horizon, we felt it our civic duty to share the details with our readers.

Waxword/TheWrap has learned that every New Year, Zell sends 675 custom-made bronze statues to his friends with his business predictions. In 2002 it was a naked man turning a wheel to the musical theme, “Get Over It.” In 2004 it was “This Land,” featuring the arm of the Statue of Liberty grasping her torch aloft.

But on the eve of the millennium in 1999, it was a buck naked man standing on a stack of Wall Street Journals (photo, below), predicting a catastrophic collapse of overvalued assets under the title, “The Emperor Has No Clothes.” A switch at the back of the statue sets off Zell’s raspy whine:

“This is Sam Zell, wishing you a happy, healthy prosperous millennium. This musical fable doesn’t question technology, it just questions its valuation… New technology will change our lives, but it will not change the basic laws of economics. The beginning of the future is tomorrow, not 10 years from tomorrow.”

Then, almost unbelievably, comes a song to the tune of to Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”:

“The problem is all inside her head she said to me,

The answer is easy if you think less logically

I’d like to help you all get rich at 23

There must be 50 ways to make a billion.

“She said you really needn’t bother with cash flow

Valution is the buzz word, only multiples must grow

So I’ll repeat myself, at the risk of sounding slow

There must be 50 ways to make a billion.

“Just add a dot com, Tom

Get a name with an e, Lee

Get a new toy, Roy

And set yourself free.

“Pay on the come, son

Don’t need to make money, hon,

Just set up a site Mike, and price yourself right.

“She never said what happens in cold economic life

Emperors clothes on, will cause cash flow to take flight.

So I wonder, can all this cyber math be right?

Are there 50 ways to make a billion?

“Just sell it to Gates, mate

Show Casey a plan, Stan

Float an I.P.O., Flo

And let yourself go.