Our newsfeeds have been buzzing over the past days about LEGOLAND, Merlin Entertainments, and the privatisation of the theme park company. What this means is that LEGOLAND will be back in private hands after going public as part of Merlin in November 2013. Let’s take a journey through the history of LEGOLAND, reflecting back on the ups, downs, and changes of ownership that have led us to today.
The parent company of The LEGO Group, Kirkbi A/S, has reached a deal to purchase Merlin Entertainments for 6 billion pounds, or more than 7.6 billion USD. Merlin Entertainments operates eight LEGOLAND theme parks from California to Dubai, dozens of LEGOLAND Discovery Centers, as well as other famous attractions such as Madam Toussad’s and the London Eye, all of which will now come under control of LEGO owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, the grandson of LEGO’s founder.
Yesterday it was reported by Reuters that Kirkbi, the company under which the Kristiansen family organize their holdings, is joining with two other investment groups, Blackstone Group LP and Canadian pension fund CPPIB, to purchase a 50 percent stake in Merlin. LEGO sold the majority stake in its theme parks to Merlin in 2005 during its financial crisis in an effort to focus more on the core brick product. Now as the largest toy manufacturer in the world with the financial crisis firmly behind them, the company is looking to diversify its holdings once more and the LEGOLAND brand was the natural place to start. Along with the 30 percent stake that Kirkbi retained in Merlin, the new deal will grant a controlling interest in the theme parks that bear their most famous product’s name.
Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen is stepping down from LEGO’s board of directors, essentially passing on control of the company to the next generation of the Kristiansen family. Like a parent giving their child a LEGO set they grew up with, Kjeld announced that he will step down from LEGO next month, which leaves his son Thomas Kristiansen acting in his stead as the fourth-generation Kristiansen to help lead the company.
The change follows a plan to make a generational shift in leadership which has been happening for several years since Thomas joined the board in 2007. He and LEGO Brand Group CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp are interviewing candidates to ultimately replace Kjeld on the board with the goal in mind of bringing in someone to help the company through their centennial anniversary.
Kjeld has been a reassuring presence to the LEGO fan community throughout the years, visiting several conventions and driving the creation of the LEGO House in Billund, Denmark. He is the son of Godtfred Kirk Christiansen (who was the son of LEGO inventor Ole Kirk Christiansen), and appeared on LEGO boxes as a child. He was CEO of LEGO from 1979 until 2004 and has continued to be a driving and inspirational influence on the company.
The full press release as well as a history of the Kristiansen family’s ownership of LEGO is included after the jump.