Thomas H. Lee, an early pioneer in private equity who made his name and fortune as an early adopter of leveraged buyout transactions, has died, a family spokesperson confirmed Thursday. He was 78.
“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,” a statement read. “Our hearts are broken.”
The statement did not elaborate on a cause or place of death, but the New York Post reported shortly before that Lee was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in his Manhattan offices.
The New York Police Department told the BBC that a 78-year-old man had been found dead on Thursday morning at an address matching the offices of Thomas H. Lee Capital Management, LLC.
A law enforcement source told The Daily Beast that officers responding to the scene found a handgun and a man with a gunshot wound to the head. The source said the police are not looking for suspects.
Prior to his death, Lee was serving as the chairman and managing partner of Lee Equity Partners, the private equity firm he’d founded in 2006 after stepping down from the Boston-based Thomas H. Lee Partners. His exit was rumored to have been the result of disagreements with other C-suite figures, but he insisted to staff at the time that the parting had been “very friendly.”
Lee founded Thomas H. Lee Partners in 1974, nine years after graduating from Harvard University, reportedly using a $150,000 inheritance as seed money to get off the ground. He cut his teeth on middle-market deals, particularly in a 1992 deal to buy Snapple for $135 million. Two years later, he orchestrated the sale of the soft-drink maker to Quaker Oats for a cool $1.7 billion, or 32 times what he’d purchased it for.
Over the course of his career, the titan invested $15 billion through hundreds of transactions, The New York Times reported. His net worth at the time of his death was estimated to be around $2 billion, according to Forbes’ billionaires index.
He was also known as a prominent philanthropist, having donated $22 million to his alma mater in 1996, and served as a trustee of roughly a dozen universities and arts organizations, including New York City’s Lincoln Center and Museum of Modern Art.
“Tom was an extraordinary individual,” his former business partner, Scott Sperling, told The Daily Beast, “A pioneer in private equity who became an industry icon. He was an incredibly gracious and generous man who was committed to his family and community.”
He is survived by his wife, Ann Tenenbaum, and his five children.