Iconoclastic business maestro Sam Zell was born to parents who escaped Poland in the early years of World War II and, in just a generation’s time, built an empire that Forbes has estimated to be worth $5 billion. He has been outspoken on a number of wide-ranging topics—in 2017 he published a memoir titled Am I Being Too Subtle?: Straight Talk from a Business Rebel—and with his wife, Helen, has accumulated an art collection to rank among the world’s best. In a video profile for the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art, Helen identified herself as the couple’s primary eye. “ ‘You do all the homework—you do the research—and I’ll pay for it,’ ” she recalls her husband saying over a meal at the start of their collecting years. (Sam’s response to the recollection? “Turned out to be a very, very expensive dinner.”)

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Helen and Sam Zell


Source of wealth:

Collecting area:
Modern and contemporary art, particularly Surrealism

Top 200 appearance:

Fun fact:

With a group of compatriots called Zell’s Angels, Sam Zell rides motorcycles. After a road trip this past summer, he told a writer for the New Yorker, “The one thought that just kept going through my head all week long was, I’m 75 years old. I’m riding faster and better than I ever have in my life.”