Hello Kitty has become an iconic figure and this one was studded with 19,636 Swarovski crystals. Photo: Hitoshi Yamada / NurPhoto / AFP

Hello Kitty has a new boss. 

The founder of Sanrio, which created the pink-bowed character in 1974, is stepping down and handing the reins to his 31-year-old grandson. This is the first change in leadership in the company’s six-decade history.

On Friday, the Tokyo-based group announced that Shintaro Tsuji, aged 92, would retire as president and pass the torch to Tomokuni, who had been senior managing director.

Coincidentally, the new boss shares his November 1 birthday with Hello Kitty 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 Co Ltd, 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 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 on Friday, annual net profits plunged by 95% in the 2019 and 2020 fiscal year. Sales were down 6.5% at 55.2 billion yen or US$514 million.

– reporting by AFP