`The Hottest Hand' In Dealmaking

Thomas H. Lee's grin is as bright as the computer screen on his desk, which displays the stock price of Snapple Beverage Corp., a marketer of bottled iced tea and fruit drinks. The Boston financier took Snapple public in mid-December at $20 a share. The stock is now at 33. But Lee did even better than that. Last March, he and several investment funds he controls did a leveraged buyout of Snapple, paying just $1.76 a share for their stake. In just nine months, that $27.8 million investment has multiplied almost 19 times, to an astonishing $521 million. Lee's personal profit: nearly $100 million. "It's the blockbuster deal of the 1990s, so far," says Texas financier Richard E. Rainwater, a legendary buyout operator in his own right, who participated in a couple of Lee deals a few years ago.

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