It’s the end of an era at Sanrio.
The Japanese company announced on Friday that its 92-year-old founder, Shintaro Tsuji, is retiring as CEO after almost 60 years of holding the position. He will officially step down from his role on July 1st, with his 31-year-old grandson, Tomokuni Tsuji, taking over to “ensure efficient decision making.”
Tomokuni, who is currently a senior managing director at Sanrio, said during a press conference on Friday that he wants “to transform the company to better respond to today’s rapidly changing business environment.”
CEO of family-run companies in Japan often pass on the reins to their sons. But because Shintaro’s son died of a heart attack in 2013, it’s his grandson that is gaining control of the company.
Despite retiring as CEO, Shintaro will remain as chairman of Sanrio, which he founded as the Yamanashi Silk Center gift shop back in 1960. The company, which was one of the first Japanese firms to see potential in the character licensing business, changed its name to Sanrio in 1973 ― a year before it created its most popular and profitable creation, Hello Kitty. The cat-like cartoon character, who also goes by the name Kitty White, played a significant role in spreading “kawaii” Japanese pop culture overseas.
Since Hello Kitty made her debut on a vinyl coin purse in 1975, the character has basically conquered the world, appearing on everything from shoes and clothing items to kitchen utensils and appliances. In recent years, Sanrio has also entered the entertainment and food service industries by opening amusement parks and restaurants in Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Despite Hello Kitty’s enduring popularity, Sanrio has faced difficulties growing its licensing business in recent years. In fact, for the year that ended in March, the company’s net profits dropped 95% from the previous year to 191 million yen ($1.8 million), due largely to a decline in merchandise sales and the shutdown of its theme parks brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sales also fell 6.5% in the previous year.
Once Tomokuni officially takes over the control of the company, he becomes the youngest CEO of a firm listed on the Topix share index.