An American billionaire and private equity financier, Thomas H. Lee, was found dead in his New York City office on Thursday, Fox Business reported.
The 78-year-old investment industry pioneer is believed to have committed suicide with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
“Our hearts are broken”
“The family is extremely saddened by Tom’s death,” Michael Sitrick, a family friend and spokesperson, said in a statement.
“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,” the spokesman continued.
“Our hearts are broken,” Sitrick added. “We ask that our privacy be respected and that we be allowed to grieve.”
Found dead by assistant
The New York Post reported that Lee’s death by suicide was confirmed by the outlet’s sources within the New York Police Department.
Per those sources, Lee was found dead in the bathroom of his office by an assistant who came looking for him after he hadn’t been heard from in a while.
He was said to have been lying on the floor with a gunshot wound to the head, and his licensed and registered Smith & Wesson revolver was on the floor next to him.
The police were called immediately after Lee was discovered shortly after 11 am, and though first responders attempted to save his life, he was ultimately declared dead at the scene less than a half hour later.
Pioneer of private equity’s “leveraged buyout” tactic
According to Forbes, Lee was estimated to be worth around $2 billion and was ranked as the 1,507th wealthiest individual in the world. He was the founder of investment firms Thomas H. Lee Partners and, later, Lee Equity Partners.
Lee built his fortune in the private equity industry by acquiring and selling various companies and was well-known as a “pioneer” of what is known as a “leveraged buyout,” in which companies are purchased with funds that were specifically borrowed against the business to be purchased, per Fox Business.
One of his more famous acquisitions was the flavored tea company Snapple in 1992, which he purchased for an initial $28 million investment and then sold two years later for roughly $1.7 billion, according to Forbes, and also bought and sold many other well-known businesses like “Experian, Dunkin’ Brands, Warner Music Group, and Houghton Mifflin,” among others.
Medical Examiner hasn’t declared cause of death yet
Though the New York Post cited its NYPD sources as confirming that Lee committed suicide, Forbes noted that the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office had not yet announced its determination of his official cause of death.
Regardless of how he died, Lee leaves behind his wife of many years, Anne Tannenbaum, their three adult children, and two other adult children from a previous marriage.