Sam Zell, chairman and founder of Equity Group Investments Inc., speaks during the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S (Photographer: Dania Maxwell/Bloomberg)

After Zell's Vulgarity, Woman Guarding $30 Billion Responds

(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Sam Zell’s on-stage vulgarity at an industry conference this week is putting pressure on the event’s organizer to take a tougher stand.

Jennifer Clark, executive vice president and general counsel of asset management firm RMR Group Inc., fired off a letter on behalf of six trusts she helps oversee, asking the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts to clarify its stance on Zell’s remark. During a panel discussion Wednesday, Zell said he believes in promoting women based on merit, then added, “I don’t think there’s ever been a, ‘We gotta get more p---y on the block, OK?’”

Nareit’s earlier response that it doesn’t “condone the use of that language” was insufficient, Clark told the industry group in a letter obtained by Bloomberg.

It “appears that Nareit’s issue with the offensive comments is one of vocabulary rather than substance,” she wrote. She noted that Nareit Chief Executive Officer Steven Wechsler, who moderated the fireside chat with Zell, didn’t take action on stage. Clark pressed Nareit to expand on its position and specify whether it intends to do more.

Ron Kuykendall, a spokesman for Nareit, said the group has received her letter and responded directly.

“At the time, I tried to deflect the inappropriate comment, but in retrospect, I wish I had handled it differently,” Wechsler said in a statement.

RMR oversees about $30 billion in assets, providing management services to six publicly traded REITs, according to the company’s website. Clark is a senior manager for each of them, in charge of legal affairs. They are the Government Properties Income Trust, Hospitality Properties Trust, Industrial Logistics Properties Trust, Select Income REIT, Senior Housing Properties Trust and Tremont Mortgage Trust.

“What was so offensive and troubling to our REITs is that Nareit’s CEO chose to be a bystander rather than an advocate for women in real estate,” Clark said in an interview.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.