Otis Chandler

Part one: Zell's big gamble

Part one: Zell's big gamble

Aside from the business suit he was wearing, which he joked was rented for the occasion, Sam Zell was never more himself than when he appeared at a New York lender conference in April 2007 to hawk his $8.2 billion buyout of Tribune Co.

Slinging one-liners and a couple of his trademark expletives, the self-assured billionaire held a crowd of potential backers in thrall as he explained why he was willing to bet his reputation on a transaction that other major investors had passed on.

"Nothing like inviting a rock star to a bank meeting," quipped Jimmy Lee, the vice chairman of JPMorgan Chase & Co., as he introduced Zell to a...