The death has been reported of Thomas H. Lee, a billionaire financier that pioneered private equity and company buyouts in the United States. Lee, 78, was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his Manhattan office on Thursday. Forbes estimated that he was worth $2 billion at the time of his death, Daily Mail reports.
Police were called to the 767 Fifth Avenue office of Lee at around 11:10 am, where he was found unresponsive on the sixth floor of the house. EMT officials declared him dead at the scene, but his exact cause of death will be determined by the chief medical examiner. His friend and family spokesman, Michael Sitrick, confirmed his death and called for privacy.
“While the world knew him as one of the pioneers in the private equity business and a successful businessman, we knew him as a devoted husband, father, grandfather, sibling, friend, and philanthropist who always put others’ needs before his own,” Sitrick stated. “Our hearts are broken. We ask that our privacy be respected and that we be allowed to grieve.”
The son of a senior employee at Shoe Company of America, Lee grew up in Boston and attended Harvard College, where he graduated in 1965 before working as a securities analyst at LF Rothschild. He worked as a banking executive at First National Bank of Boston from the 1960s to 1970s before resigning to launch his own company which focused on corporate buyouts.
He established Thomas H. Lee Partners in 1974 and enjoyed a streak of corporate buyouts in which he acquired upscale organizations and then sold them off for larger profits. He bought Snapple, a beverage drink company, for $135 million and, after investing $28 million to standardize it, sold it off for $1.7 billion in 1992.
He grew Snapple’s revenue from $95 million a year to $750 million a year. He also bought and later sold Warner Music, Dunkin, and Nielson among others.
In 2006, he left Thomas H. Lee Partners, which had changed its name to THL, and established Lee Equity Partners. Within 46 years, Lee was said to have invested more than $15 billion in numerous deals across the United States. An avid art collector, Lee served as a trustee with the Lincoln Center, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
He was also a famous philanthropist who donated heavily to Harvard, Brandeis University, and the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, among other notable institutions. Lee married Barbara Fish in 1968, and they shared sons Zach and Robbie before their divorce in 1995. Then in 1997, he married Ann Tenenbaum, and they had Jesse, Nathan, and Rosalie. He was also a grandfather to two grandchildren.