Private equity house Apax Partners yesterday agreed to sell the firm to Mattel, best known for its Barbie and Fisher-Price brands. A deal, worth up to $1.5bn, was first mooted a year ago.
Thomas the Tank Engine, created by Rev W Awdry in 1945, is already sold in 80 nations from Israel to Peru.
Now Mattel wants to take Hit’s other brands, such as Bob the Builder, into developing markets such as China, David Allmark, executive vice-president for Fisher-Price, told City A.M.
He also left the door open to further deals, saying the firm “tends to get information about people who want to sell”.
The deal, which does not include Hit’s interest in the cable network station Sprout, will be funded through cash and debt.
Apax bought a majority stake in Hit, alongside management in 2005, for £489m, which was then worth $890m. It sold the Guinness Book of World Records to Ripley Entertainment for £60m in 2008. Yesterday Apax declined to say if it had made a profit on its investment in Hit or to comment on suggestions it had recorded a $200m paper loss.