Thomas H. Lee, a Pioneer in Leveraged Buyouts, Is Dead at 78

Competitors focused on the largest targets possible, but Mr. Lee triumphed at medium-sized targets. He has organized acquisitions of companies such as his chain of GNC vitamin stores and his Playtex of lingerie makers. Perhaps his most famous coup was that in 1992 his company bought Snapple for his $135 million and only two years later he sold it to Quaker Oates for $1.7 billion. . This is more than 30 times his profit.

Only $28 million of the investment in Snapple came from Thomas H. Lee Partners’ own funds.

It’s not just the numbers that set Lee apart. Most famous buyout gurus enjoyed their roles as so-called raiders. Famous figures such as Michael He Milken and Henry Clavis, who were later jailed for securities violations, have created colorful and intimidating characters in books such as “The Den of Thieves” and “The Savage’s Gate.”

Mr. Lee went in a different direction. His vice was cigars and his hobby was golf. His profile headline, published in the New York Times in 1993, summarizes his general views. The article described Lee as having “the vibe of both an energetic salesman who isn’t always proactive and a professor who likes to explain complex issues.”

“I’m a friendly guy. I’ve never been poor and I don’t feel like I need to prove myself,” he said in an interview for that article.

But later in his career, Mr. Lee stumbled. His company completely wrote off his investment in commodities, his broker Refco, which went bankrupt after it was discovered that the CEO had hidden a huge amount of debt.Mr. Lee left Thomas H. Lee His Partners in 2006, with reported disagreements with management and the company changing its name to THL Partners.

He briefly launched his own hedge fund before shutting it down after a few years of huge losses.

He is survived by his wife Ann Tenenbaum. His five children Jesse, Nathan, Rosalie, Zach and Robert. and two grandchildren.

In his later years, as an avid donor to New York’s cultural cause, Mr. Lee was resourceful. while receiving an award In 2014, for a donation to New York’s UJA federation, he met the company’s owner and his greedy new son-in-law at Manhattan’s St. Regis Hotel.

“It happened at such a great event,” Lee said. “A great man has been honored.”

If you are having suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or For a list of additional resources.

furubiemeko contributed to the report.

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