Billionaire Thomas H. Lee, the billionaire who led some of the private equity industry’s most successful deals during its early rise in the 1980s and 1990s, has died at the age of 78.
Lee founded Thomas H Lee Partners in 1974, a specialist investment firm that perfected the early art of debt buyouts and grew into one of the largest in the industry by the mid-1990s after a series of successful deals highlighted by the acquisition of the beverage company Snapple.
By the mid-2000s, Lee had become one of the wealthiest private equity investors in the United States and his Boston-based firm was among the largest in the industry by assets, with more than $12 billion in management, and a prolific dealmaker in The boom of big acquisitions like Dunkin Brands and Nielsen media ratings group.
In late 2005, Lee left his eponymous company, now called THL, to found a New York-based private equity firm focused on mid-cap acquisitions, called Lee Equity Partners, where he most recently served as president. The group manages a $3 billion capital and private equity portfolio in the financial services, healthcare and business services sectors. His net worth was estimated at $2 billion at the time of his death, according to Forbes.
“We are deeply saddened by the unexpected passing of our dear friend and former partner, Thomas H. Lee,” THL said in a press release late Thursday. Tom was a prominent figure in private equity. He helped pioneer the industry and mentor generations of young professionals who have followed in his footsteps.”
Lee grew up in the Boston area and graduated from Harvard College in 1965 before becoming a stock analyst in the research department of LF Rothschild, the son of an American Shoe Corporation executive who was the maker of Clark’s shoes.
He cut his teeth as director of technology lending in the late 1960s and early 1970s at First National Bank of Boston before starting his own company focused on corporate acquisitions, later known as “bootstrapped” deals because of its heavy use of debt financing to acquire companies.
After achieving success in the 1980s and 1990s, Lee became an influential philanthropist and avid art collector, serving as a curator at such cultural institutions as the Lincoln Center, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
He has also been a major benefactor of his alma mater, Harvard, Brandeis University and Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law, among other institutions.
“The family is deeply saddened by Tom’s passing,” said Mike Citric, his spokesperson and family friend. “Our hearts are broken. We ask that our privacy be respected and that we be allowed to grieve.”
“Infuriatingly humble analyst. Bacon maven. Proud food specialist. Certified reader. Avid writer. Zombie advocate. Incurable problem solver.”
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