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 ubiquitous pink-bowed character in 1974, announced yesterday that Mr Shintaro Tsuji would retire as president and pass the torch to Mr Tomokuni Tsuji, who had been senior managing director.
Coincidentally, the new boss shares his birthday with Hello Kitty – Nov 1 – but is 14 years younger.
Mr Tomokuni Tsuji will become the youngest chief executive officer of a firm listed on Tokyo’s Topix index.
Mr Shintaro Tsuji’s son Kunihiko died of heart failure in 2013.
According to the firm’s official history, Mr Shintaro Tsuji created the forerunner to Sanrio, called Yamanashi Silk Centre Co, 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 merchandised 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 that the feline-inspired character was not actually 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 difficult time for Sanrio, whose business has been declining for many years and has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
According to its results also published yesterday, annual net profits plunged by 95 per cent in the 2019/2020 fiscal year.
Sales were down 6.5 per cent at 55.2 billion yen (S$714 million).
Family-based successions are still common at Japanese corporations, most notably at Toyota Motor Corp, where chief executive Akio Toyoda is the grandson of the automaker’s founder.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG