Famed billionaire financier Thomas H. Lee was found dead in his office bathroom on Thursday with a single gunshot wound to his head.
Lee, 78, was discovered shortly after 11 a.m. by an assistant who went looking for him when people hadn’t heard from him. First responders found Lee lying on his side with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head, law enforcement sources told The New York Post. A Smith & Wesson revolver registered and licensed to Lee was found at his side.
“We are profoundly saddened by the unexpected passing of our good friend and former partner, Thomas H. Lee,” said a statement put out by the company Lee founded in 1974. “Tom was an iconic figure in private equity. He helped pioneer an industry and mentored generations of young professionals who followed in his footsteps.”
It is unclear why Lee, who was estimated to be worth $2 billion, committed suicide.
“The family is extremely saddened by Tom’s death,” family friend and spokesperson, Michael Sitrick, 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. Our hearts are broken.”
Lee was married with five children and “one of the most generous, and kindest people [I] ever met,” a source who knew him told the Post.
The source also said that Lee “was regarded as having one of the most admired houses in the Hamptons — Bill and Hillary Clinton were frequent guests, they would regularly stay there.”
Lee was known for his successful use of leveraged buyouts, or LBOs, CNN reported. LBOs involve a buyer borrowing money to make a purchase of a company, and then selling that company in a relatively short period for a higher price, sometimes through another buyer, or by taking the company public, CNN reported.
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One of Lee’s most famous and lucrative deals was his acquisition of Snapple in 1992, which he purchased for $135 million. He then sold it two years later to Quaker Oats for $1.7 billion. He did this by reportedly increasing the company’s sales and revenue from $95 million a year to $750 million. When Quaker sold Snapple after purchasing it from Lee, the company lost $1.4 billion in the deal.
Lee was considered a rarity in the industry since his firm didn’t take the usual steps to increase an acquired company’s worth prior to selling, such as greatly cutting costs or implementing mass layoffs.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free hotline for individuals in crisis or distress or for those looking to help someone else. It is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.