Lee joins Milken team

TCI, News Corp. part of bid for Simon & Schuster

NEW YORK — Boston-based investment manager Thomas Lee is busy these days: Not only has he teamed up with Mike Ovitz to look at a bid for Polygram Holdings, but he is also one of Michael Milken’s partners in a bid for Simon & Schuster.

Milken’s group, which also includes cable giant Tele-Communications Inc. and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., is believed to be one of three main bidders for Viacom Inc.’s publishing division, which is expected to fetch about $4 billion. Final bids were due in at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday.

Milken is thought to be competing against Pearson and leveraged buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, which is bidding with its publishing arm, K-III.

While Viacom has excluded the consumer group from the publishing assets put on the market, Milken’s offer is believed to be for the entire package. Wall Streeters expect Viacom may be willing to sell the entire group at the right price.

The precise composition of Milken’s group is not known although the participation by TCI and News Corp. is not believed to be great.

TCI president Leo Hindery said during an analyst conference call Wednesday that while TCI’s investment arm TCI Ventures is involved in the bid, he denies that the value of its commitment is anywhere near the $500 million quoted in a recent newspaper report.

TCI’s commitment is said to be mainly in the form of guaranteeing Internet distribution for the Computer Curriculum educational electronic publishing business of Simon & Schuster, should Milken win control. News Corp.’s commitment, likewise, is in the form of guaranteeing distribution on services like BSkyB, sources said. News Corp. declined comment.

A decision on the Simon & Schuster bids is not expected for at least a week, sources say, as Viacom’s adviser Morgan Stanley will likely negotiate with one or two of the highest bidders in the next few days.