Thomas H. Lee, Billionaire Who First Took Warner Music Group Public, Found Dead

Photo Credit: Warner Music Group / CC by 2.0

Thomas H. Lee, billionaire and private equity investor who first took Warner Music Group public, was found dead Thursday morning.

Billionaire financier and private equity investor Thomas H. Lee was found dead in his Manhattan office on Thursday morning, police say. Cops responded to a 911 call at 767 Fifth Avenue, where Thomas H. Lee Capital LLC is located on the sixth floor, around ten minutes after 11 AM. According to the NY Post, EMTs pronounced the 78-year-old dead at the scene of a self-inflicted gunshot wound; the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will determine the official cause of death.

“The family is extremely saddened by Tom’s death,” says family friend and spokesperson Michael Sitrick. “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. We ask that our privacy be respected and that we be allowed to grieve.”

Lee is credited with being one of the first investors to purchase companies with borrowed money against the business being bought, now called a leveraged buyout. A Harvard graduate, Lee founded Thomas H. Lee Partners L.P. in 1974, serving as chairman and CEO of the company and its predecessors.

He purchased beverage company Snapple in 1992 for $135 million, selling it to Quaker Oats just two years later for $1.7 billion — at the time, his most famous move. In 2004, Lee bought Warner Music from the ailing Time Warner for $2.6 billion before taking the company public for the first time in 2005, valued at around $4 billion.

Lee split from his longtime partners in 2005, with his namesake company headed by Scott Sperling, while Lee went on to form Lee Equity Partners in 2006, where he served as chairman for the remainder of his life. Lee’s net worth is estimated to be $2 billion at the time of his death.