Thomas Lee He buys the best, even when it costs
By Judy Feldman

(MONEY Magazine) – Thomas H. Lee, 60, is a billionaire leveraged-buyout expert, an art collector and the CEO of the second-largest private equity fund in the world. "We buy established companies and may even pay a high price," he says, adding, "It'll look like a cheap price later." In 1992, for instance, Lee famously bought soft-drink maker Snapple for $140 million. Two years later he sold it to Quaker Oats for, uh, a bit more: $1.7 billion.

"We don't do hostile takeovers," he explains. "We only look at companies that want to be bought." One is Warner Music, which Lee recently grabbed from Time Warner (which also owns MONEY) for $2.6 billion. "What I buy is momentum," he says. "We look for kernels and gems and then we roll with it." That means turning over a lot of rocks. "Of 1,000 deals that come in," he says, "probably 300, or a deal a day, actually fit what we're looking for. And we'll actually do only five or 10." For all of his success, Lee says he hasn't hit a plateau where he can take it easy: "It's a looong series of small steps, and I'm still on that stairway." --J.F.