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Dueling Thomases

A Boston firm called Thomas H. Lee faces an unenviable branding problem.

Thomas H. Lee Partners and Thomas H. Lee Capital have something in common besides their respective names – neither firm has a web site.

This lack of web presence makes it difficult for an uninformed party to quickly determine the difference between the two firms.

A bit of Google-aided digging will reveal that Thomas H. Lee Partners is a buyout firm in Boston founded in 1974 by one Thomas H. Lee, and now run by three co-presidents. As of March, the Boston firm is no longer affiliated with Mr. Lee.

Thomas H. Lee Capital is a New York-based private investment firm founded by Thomas H. Lee and currently led by Thomas H. Lee. The firm ?intends to pursue the full bridge of buyout opportunities,? according to a statement released recently by Mr. Lee.

One can see a branding crisis on the near horizon. Perhaps in anticipation of this, the partners of Thomas H. Lee Partners have taken to calling their firm THL Partners in press releases, after first referring to the firm by its official name.

For his part, Mr. Lee has not been shy about broadcasting his firm's name. It is attached to his many non-profit board affiliations. Even before officially severing ties with Thomas H. Lee Partners, he was referring to himself as head of Thomas H. Lee Capital.

Already the confusion is apparent. An Associated Press article last year about the acquisition of the Wyndham International hotel chain mistakenly stated that the private equity consortium included Thomas H. Lee Capital (in fact, Thomas H. Lee Partnerswas involved).

This duel may spill over to the Internet. According to publicly available records, the owner of the domain names thomashleecapital.com and thomas-h-lee-capital.com is Thomas H. Lee Partners, who also own thlpartners.com. Thomas H. Lee Capital owns thlcapital.com.

Curiously, thomashleepartners.com is not currently owned by anyone.