Hello Kitty -- the cute, red-bowed white cartoon cat that is one of the most recognizable franchises in the world -- has crowned a new billionaire.
Shintaro Tsuji, the 85-year-old founder and CEO of Sanrio, was just revealed to be worth more than a billion dollars by the crew over at Bloomberg Billionaires. Soaring sales of Hello Kitty products helped the company stock price double this year. Shintaro controls 1.8 million shares of the stock directly, and even more through his wife Yasuko. Sales for Sanrio were $899 million in the last fiscal year.
Hello Kitty is the Tokyo-based company's most popular character. Sanrio has licensing deals for the character with Walmart (WMT), Zara and luxury crystal maker Swarovski, among others. These days you can find Hello Kitty on clothes, cell phone cases, jewelry, glasses, backpacks, makeup cases, stationary, coffee cups, plush toys, and even airplanes.
All that global licensing is key, says Matt Miller, editor of Bloomberg Billionaires. "They were the first company to really go out there and draw these really cute characters, make sure that they were their intellectual property and then be able to actually monetize them through licensing."
Ted Bestor, director of the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University, told Bloomberg: “It must be way up there in terms of the most recognized franchises in the world.”
Over the years, Tsuji got fully in to character and would use the pen name "Strawberry King" in company newsletters -- he introduced his first character, Strawberry, in 1962.
Sanrio continues to diversify. It operates theme parks and makes movies. Two years ago, the company bought the rights to the Mr. Men cartoon, the first character the company didn't develop itself. Prepare to be overwhelmed by Mr. Men and Little Miss merchandise soon.
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