Home » U.S. billionaire financier Thomas Lee dies at 78, family says

U.S. billionaire financier Thomas Lee dies at 78, family says

by Ghassan

by Greg Roumeliotis

(MAINNEWS) – NEW YORK, American billionaire financier Thomas H. Lee, considered a pioneer of private equity investment and leveraged buyouts, died at the age of 78, his family said in a statement on Thursday, without noting the cause of his death.

The New York Post, citing unidentified police sources, reported Lee was discovered dead on Thursday morning at his Fifth Avenue Manhattan office, headquarters of his investment firm, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

According to the Post, he was found after police responded to an emergency-911 call around 11:10 a.m. (1610 GMT)

Reuters could not immediately confirm the cause of death. The New York Police Department said emergency medical service personnel responding to a 911 call on Fifth Avenue at about that time found a “male who was pronounced dead at the scene.”

Police gave no further details, and said the city medical examiner’s office would determine the cause and manner of death.

The coroner’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

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

Lee was the founder and chairman of Lee Equity, which he formed in 2006, and previously served as chairman and CEO of Thomas H. Lee Partners, which he founded in 1974, according to a biographical statement released by his family.

Over the past 46 years, Lee was responsible for investing more than $15 billion of capital in hundreds of transactions, including the acquisition and subsequent sales of such brand names as Snapple Beverages and Warner Music.

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He was also known as a philanthropist and trustee who 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.

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Billionaire financier and investor Thomas H. Lee was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his Manhattan office on Thursday morning, police sources said.

Cops responded to a 911 call at 767 Fifth Avenue — where Thomas H. Lee Capital, LLC is located on the sixth floor — at around 11:10 a.m., the sources said.

EMTs pronounced the 78-year-old businessman dead at the scene.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will determine the official cause of death.

“Our hearts are broken. We ask that our privacy be respected and that we be allowed to grieve.”

“The family is extremely saddened by Tom’s death. 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,” Lee family friend and spokesperson Michael Sitrick said in a statement.

A front desk worker at Lee’s office building was told there was an “emergency,” on the sixth floor, but was unaware of Lee’s death.

“They don’t want anyone going to that space right now, not even the building staff,” the man said.

Cops responded to 767 Fifth Avenue — where Thomas H. Lee Capital, LLC is located on the sixth floor.
Kevin C. Downs for NY Post

Lee is credited with being one of the first financiers to purchase companies with money borrowed against the business being bought — what is now called a leveraged buyout.

The Harvard graduate founded Thomas H. Lee Partners, L.P. in 1974, serving as the chairman and CEO of the company and its predecessors.

In 1992, the private equity pioneer bought Snapple and sold it two years later for $1.7 billion, making 32 times his money.

But not everything always went according to plan.

Michael Milken, Thomas Lee, Peter Thoren and Cliff Robbins attend Dinner At Daniel Benefitting The Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) at Daniel in Nov. 2022.
Jared Siskin/PMC
Thomas H. Lee and Amanda Waldron attend the Lincoln Center Fall Gala Honoring John E. Waldron in Nov. 2019.
Getty Images for Lincoln Center

In 1999, Lee led a deal for what was renamed Vertis Communications, the fifth-largest North American printer. By 2006, when many peers had expanded to offer other services, such as marketing, it dropped to ninth since it did not have the money to do the same. Vertis filed for bankruptcy in 2008.

Lee and his longtime partners split in 2005 with Thomas H. Lee Partners being run by Scott Sperling, and Lee left to form Lee Equity Partners in 2006, where he served as chairman until his death Thursday.

At the time of his death, Lee’s net worth was estimated to be $2 billion, according to Forbes.

Lee with his his wife of 27 years, Ann Tennenbaum.
An oceanfront mansion in the Hamptons owned by Lee in 2008.
Doug Kuntz

Lee was a known philanthropist, particularly for the arts and education. He sat as a trustee for several Big Apple art organizations, including the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
“I’ve been lucky to make some money. I’m more than happy to give some of it back,” Lee said in 1996 after donating $22 million to his alma mater Harvard University, one of the school’s largest gifts ever from a living alumnus.

Lee once owned Snapple and made 32 times his investment.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

For his lifetime of philanthropy, he received the UJA-Federation’s award — named after Jack Nash, a financier who helped create the modern hedge fund business — in 2014.

Lee leaves behind his wife of 27 years, Ann Tennenbaum. He is survived by his children Jesse, Zach, Nathan, Robbie, and Rosalie, as well as two grandchildren.

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