Billionaire Financier Thomas H. Lee Found Dead Age 78

Kos Temenes
By Kos Temenes
February 27, 2023USshare
Billionaire Financier Thomas H. Lee Found Dead Age 78
Thomas H. Lee attends NYU Langone Medical Center's Perlmutter Cancer Center Gala at The Plaza Hotel in New York on Oct. 21, 2015. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images for NYU Langone Medical Center)

Private equity pioneer Thomas H. Lee died on Feb. 23. at the age of 78. The cause of death, according to the chief medical examiner was suicide by firearm.

The New York City office of the chief medical examiner confirmed on Feb. 24, that Lee died as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Police responded to a 911 call just after 11:00 a.m. local time. The billionaire was discovered at the headquarters of his firm located at Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

Following his death, his family issued the following statement:

“The family is extremely saddened by Tom’s death. Our hearts are broken. We ask that our privacy be respected and that we be allowed to grieve.”

Lee was a pioneer in private equity and leveraged buyouts. Among his early ventures were acquisitions of companies like Snapple, Houghton Mifflin, and an array of lesser-known names, through his firm Thomas H. Lee & Partners. Lee would acquire the companies and then, quickly sell them for a profit.

Lee’s grandfather was Robert W. Schiff, an immigrant from Russian Lithuania, who founded the Shoe Corporation of America, a company that at one time sold 15 percent of all shoes in the United States.

While his father followed in the footsteps of the family business, Lee started venturing on his own and, in 1974, established his business after receiving a degree from Harvard.

Lee established himself in the business world of leveraged buyouts with $150,000 capital, which he obtained from an inheritance and a loan from his brother.

After a series of botched investments, he was eventually forced out of his investment firm. He later founded Lee Equity in 2006, where he served as chairman.

Spanning the course of nearly five decades, Lee engineered investments of more than $15 billion, including the acquisition and subsequent sales of such brand names as Warner Music.

Among his other ventures were acquisitions of companies like the GNC vitamin store chain and the undergarment maker Playtex.

His most renowned business transaction was the 1992 acquisition of Snapple, which he bought for $135 million and sold to to Quaker Oats just two years later for $1.7 billion.

His public image was that of an amicable man with a love of golf and cigars. A 1993 article about him in the New York Times featured the headline: “In Takeover Games, Nice Guys Don’t Always Finish Last.” It portrayed him as having the demeanor of a tireless, sometimes distant salesman, but also as an intellectual with an affinity for delving into and elaborating on more complex topics.

Lee was a known philanthropist. As trustee he served on the boards of many organizations, including the Lincoln Center, the Museum of Modern Art, Brandeis University, Harvard University, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

He maintained his witty disposition well into his later years. In 2014, he received a barrage of laughter from a crowd during an award ceremony for donations to the UJA-Federation of New York, as he told an amusing anecdote of “the first buyout,” involving a company owner and his acquisitive new son-in-law.

Lee is survived by his wife, Ann Tenenbaum, his five children, Jesse, Nathan, Rosalie, Zach, and Robert, as well as two grandchildren.

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