TOKYO: The founder of the firm behind Hello Kitty is stepping down aged 92 and handing the reins to his 31-year-old grandson — the first change in leadership in the company’s six-decade history.
Tokyo-based Sanrio, which created the pink-bowed character in 1974, announced on Friday that Shintaro Tsuji would retire as president and pass the torch to Tomokuni, who is senior managing director.
Coincidentally, the new boss shares his birthday with Hello Kitty — November 1 — but is 14 years younger. He will become the youngest CEO of a firm listed on Tokyo’s Topix index.
Shintaro’s son Kunihiko died of heart failure in 2013.
According to the firm’s official history, Shintaro Tsuji created the forerunner to Sanrio, called Yamanashi Silk Center, in 1960 in Tokyo. It changed its name in 1973 to Sanrio and created its first character goods a year later, using Hello Kitty and the duo Jimmy and Patty.
The first Hello Kitty item, a coin purse, was sold in 1975 and the character has since adorned everything from bullet trains to handbags. Hello Kitty even has its own popular theme park.
To the surprise of fans, Sanrio said in 2014 the character was not a cat but a “happy little girl,” sparking uproar from Internet users who spluttered: “But she’s got whiskers!“
The change at the top comes at a tough time for Sanrio. Business has been declining for many years and has been hit hard by the pandemic.According to results published on Friday, annual net profits fell by 95 percent in the 2019/2020 fiscal year. Sales were down 6.5 percent at 55.2 billion yen or $514 million.