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Samuel Zell didn’t become a billionaire by mincing words.

Yesterday evening, Zell offered around 300 students an unobstructed view of the thoughts and habits of one of the most successful businesspeople of the last half century ­— as he put it, “the world according to Sam.”

Zell let students know what he thought about the economy, both global and domestic, the future of real estate and the insight that he has gained after 50 plus years in business.

The entrepreneur, philanthropist and chairman of Equity International made his fortune in real estate.

Since 1983, he has provided a permanent endowment for Wharton’s Samuel Zell and Robert Lurie Real Estate Center. Joseph Gyourko, director of the Center, introduced Zell by telling the crowd that they “couldn’t have a better guy to help us” understand current economic issues.

Zell is an expert on the international business climate and he claims to travel 1,200 hours per year. At yesterday’s talk, he said “it’s very hard to be optimistic” about the Middle East, and there is “nobody in China that needs your capital.” Zell was more optimistic, though, about the vast “trained executive class” in Brazil and was most positive about Mongolia, saying that its growth would be “staggering” — even as he complained about the food there, describing yak butter as “inedible” with a laugh.

When speaking about the U.S. economy, Zell said he does not expect a double-dip recession. His optimism was tempered, though, by criticism of the Obama administration. It “lacks leadership, lacks perspective, lacks certainty,” he said, adding that “this country is in very perilous shape.”

Even so, Zell predicted “an enormous amount of activity between 2012 and 2014,” particularly in the domestic single-family real estate market. “There is no shortage of capital,” Zell said. “Period.”

Zell did not shy away from speaking his mind, which kept the audience on its toes. When asked about investing in Europe, he explained that “Europe is great for food, wine, cheese and castles,” but not for international investors.

When a student asked him what field he would enter if he were just coming out of college today, Zell responded, “the brothel business.” As the crowd laughed, Zell explained to the student, “my answer is about as silly as your question,” and then told him that an individual’s success has more to do with his or her “instincts, capabilities and skills” than the field he or she enters.

The clearest advice that Zell offered was about how he maintains his expertise: reading. “I do an enormous amount of reading. I absorb information,” he said. “It’s part of my job.”

Wharton junior Jordan Collins, co-president of the Wharton Undergraduate Real Estate Club — which helped promote the event to undergraduates — described Zell as a “very charismatic speaker.”

“He definitely speaks his mind,” she said. “He’s a straight shooter for sure.”

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