Thomas H. Lee (businessman)

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Thomas Haskell Lee
Born (1944-03-27) March 27, 1944 (age 77)
EducationBelmont Hill School, 1961
Harvard College, 1965
OccupationPrivate equity investor
EmployerLee Equity Partners
Known for--founder of Thomas H. Lee Partners (1974)
--founder of Lee Equity Partners (2006)
Net worthUS$ 2.0 billion (Sept 2015)[1]
Spouse(s)Barbara Fish (divorced)
Ann Tennenbaum
ChildrenRosalie Lee
Jesse Lee
Nathan Lee
Zach Lee
Robbie Lee
Parent(s)Herbert C. Lee
Mildred "Micki" Schiff Lee

Thomas H. Lee (born March 27, 1944[2]) is an American businessperson, financier and investor and is credited with being one of the early pioneers in private equity and specifically leveraged buyouts. Thomas H. Lee Partners (THL), the firm he founded in 1974, is among the oldest and largest private equity firms globally. Lee is currently the managing partner of Lee Equity Partners, a private equity firm he founded in 2006 after leaving Thomas H. Lee Partners.

Early career[edit]

Lee was born to a Jewish family, the son of Herbert C. Lee (formerly Leibowitz) and Mildred "Micki" Schiff Lee.[3][4][5] His father worked for the Shoe Corporation of America, founded by his father-in-law, Robert Schiff and later was chairperson of Shoe Corporation of Canada and Clark International Corp.[5] He has two brothers: Richard S. Lee and Jonathan O. Lee.[5] Lee attended Belmont Hill School and graduated from Harvard College in 1965, quickly going to work as an analyst in the institutional research department of L.F. Rothschild in New York. The next year, Lee went to work for the First National Bank of Boston, where he spent eight years ultimately rising to the rank of Vice President in 1973.[6]

Lee is said to have begun investing with a $150,000 inheritance.[citation needed]

Thomas H. Lee Partners[edit]

In 1974, Lee founded a new investment firm to focus on acquiring companies through leveraged buyout transactions. By the mid-1980s, Thomas H. Lee Partners was firmly established among the top tier of a new class of private equity investors, while taking a friendlier approach than the so-called corporate raiders of the era (e.g., Nelson Peltz, Ronald Perelman, Carl Icahn). One of THL's early successes was the 1985 acquisition of Akron, Ohio-based Sterling Jewelers for $28 million. Lee reportedly put in less than $3 million and when the company was sold two years later for $210 million walked away with over $180 million in profits. The combined company was an early predecessor to what is now Signet Group, one of Europe's largest jewelry retail chains.[7] In 1992, THL's acquisition of Snapple Beverages marked the resurrection of the leveraged buyout after several dormant years in the wake of the RJR Nabisco takeover, the fall of Michael Milken, and the collapse of Drexel Burnham Lambert in the late 1980s and early 1990s.[8]

After ceding public attention to his competitors, most notably Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., the Snapple Beverages transaction catapulted Lee to prominence. Only eight months after buying the company, Lee took Snapple Beverages public and in 1994, only two years after the original acquisition, Lee sold the company to Quaker Oats for $1.7 billion. Lee was estimated to have made $900 million for himself and his investors from the sale. Quaker Oats would subsequently sell the company, which performed poorly under new management, three years later for only $300 million. From 1974 through 2006, THL raised more than $22 billion of capital in six institutional private equity funds and completed more than 100 investments representing in excess of $125 billion of aggregate purchase price.[9]

The final years of Lee's tenure at THL were marred to a certain extent by the firm's investment in Refco, a financial services company specializing in commodities and futures contracts that collapsed suddenly in October 2005, only months after its IPO. THL as the lead investor (and Lee himself) was named in a class action shareholder lawsuit against Refco, along with Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Bank of America and Grant Thornton.[10][11]

Resignation and later career[edit]

In March 2006, Lee resigned from Thomas H. Lee Partners as the firm was nearing completion of fundraising for its sixth and current private equity fund. In the same year, Lee formed Lee Equity Partners a private equity firm focused more on growth capital transactions than the leveraged buyouts favored by THL.[12] [13] Lee, who had limited his day-to-day involvement in the firm and had relocated to New York City, told staff that the parting was "very friendly," an account backed up by another insider, who described it as "completely friendly and amicable."[14][15]


Lee donated $22 million to Harvard University.[16] Lee has served as a trustee of Lincoln Center, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art,[16] the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Brandeis University, Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University, Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, Harvard University, the Intrepid Museum Foundation, NYU Medical Center, and Rockefeller University.[6] He's a major donor to James Turrell's Roden Crater project.[17]

Personal life[edit]

Lee has been married twice.[7] He divorced his first wife, Barbara Fish Lee, in 1995,[18][19] after he made public the fact that he had an affair with a woman who was later tried for extortion.[20][21] Lee's second wife is Ann Tenenbaum of Savannah, Georgia.[16] Lee has five children.[1] Lee is an avid art collector and a friend of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. In June 2008 at the conclusion of Hillary's unsuccessful presidential run, she and Bill were reported to have stayed at his East Hampton, New York beach front home for a few days for the period when she was out of the public eye.[22]

In the July 15, 2016 Report of Disbursements, Thomas H. Lee, is named as a $100,000 receipt from Correct the Record, a political action group taking unspecified "targeted action" against political opponents of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.[23]


  1. ^ a b Forbes: The World's Billionaires - Thomas Lee September 2015
  2. ^ Thomas Lee Steps Down From His Namesake Firm - New York Times - March 23, 2006
  3. ^ Boston Globe: "HERBERT C. LEE Obituary April 4, 2012
  4. ^ Boston Globe: "Mildred Schiff Lee Obituary" May 7, 2009
  5. ^ a b c Palm Beach Daily News: "Herbert Lee, philanthropist and Fellowship of Christians and Jews co-founder, dies" By William Kelly April 5, 2012
  6. ^ a b Museum of Jewish Heritage Announcement: "Thomas H. Lee, President and CEO of Thomas H. Lee Capital, Honored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust at its Tenth Annual Heritage Dinner" Archived 2015-12-20 at the Wayback Machine May 9, 2006
  7. ^ a b Forbes: "Tom Lee is on a roll" by Phyllis Berman November 17, 1997
  8. ^ Thomas H. Lee In Snapple Deal (New York Times, 1992)
  9. ^ Thomas H. Lee Partners website
  10. ^ Thomas H. Lee Partners Files Suit Against Former Refco Executives (New York Times, 2005)
  11. ^ Bankruptcy Trustee Sues Big Investor in Refco (New York Times, August 9, 2007)
  12. ^ Thomas Lee Steps Down From His Namesake Firm March 26, 2006
  13. ^ Founding Partner To Leave Thomas H. Lee (Wall Street Journal, 2006)
  14. ^ Behind the split at Thomas H. Lee (Institutional Investor, January 13, 2006)
  15. ^ Lee denies discord (BusinessWeek, December 21, 2005)
  16. ^ a b c Harvard Gazette: "Thomas Lee Gives Harvard $22 Million" September 12, 1996
  17. ^ Roden Crater Information" Archived 2013-09-10 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Funding Universe: "Thomas H. Lee Co. History" retrieved October 29, 2013
  19. ^ Boston Globe: "Lee divorce case goes to court" by Nathan Cobb July 17, 1995
  20. ^ "1995: Allegation embroil financier - Woman stockbroker is accused of targeting Boston man for extortion" by Nathan Cobb November 24, 2009
  22. ^ Clintons Relaxing at Wiborg's Beach House (Maybe) - East Hampton Star, June 13, 2008 Archived June 28, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ [1]

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