01 Jun 2015
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3-Minute Briefing: Rehito “Ray” Hatoyama (MBA 2008)

Sanrio Company managing director on marketing Hello Kitty, movie options, and more
by Julia Hanna

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Photo by Eric Millette

For Hello Kitty, we like to say, “Small gift, big smile.” We have a 10-cent lollipop at some mass retailers. But we also have $500,000 jewelry. Sanrio has more than 3,000 licensing partners in over 130 countries. The happiness of bringing a smile to someone is very universal.

Many people might think Hello Kitty is just for kids, but it’s for all ages. For example, a lady might want a Hello Kitty golf bag or jewelry for herself. We also have a licensing partnership with the hard rock band KISS. We don’t believe this is a dilution—it’s really about making Hello Kitty an open innovation platform where anyone can contribute to create a “win-win” business together.

When I joined Sanrio in 2008, our market cap was about $500 million. Now it’s closer to $3.5 billion, with $750 million in sales and an operating profit just over $200 million.

Consumers in the United States like very flashy Hello Kitty, with silver and black-based T-shirts. Orange is popular, too. In Japan, it’s mostly based on red, blue, white, and pink. Purple works well in Europe, although there are many different tastes from country to country.

Last year, the US media was surprised to learn that Hello Kitty is a little girl. Maybe this was due to a language difference. “Kitty” doesn’t necessarily mean “cat” in Japanese. It’s a name like Katy or John. Lost in translation.

A character needs to be a different creation from the animal that inspires it—when it’s separate, it creates real appeal with a new identity and new feelings.

I have tons of Hello Kitty—T-shirts, shoes, stationery, a PC, a mobile phone. I use a Hello Kitty credit card and checkbook. My favorite Sanrio characters are Mr. Men and Little Miss—I grew up with them in Sydney, Australia. I’m going to produce the Mr. Men/Little Miss movie that we just signed on to do with Fox.

To become a truly competitive global company, you need to have a broad portfolio. Hello Kitty is great, but we need to have other properties to grow even further. We also want to expand our business model into entertainment. Yes, we are diversifying our products, but do we have animation and movies? We don’t. And the world has become so small that these movies flow all around the world in a very fast way through media and the Internet.

I’m based in San Francisco but travel 250 to 300 days of the year. In the winter I like to snowboard with my family at Lake Tahoe.

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Class of MBA 2008, Section E

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