Return to search

Cathay Capital, founding family recapitalize K’NEX Brands

Cathay Capital North America completed a recapitalization of construction toy maker K’NEX Brands. Cathay partnered with K’NEX CEO Michael Araten. Families of the company’s founders, the Aratens and the Talleys, will retain significant ownership in K’NEX’s new holding company, Smart Brands International Co., along with senior management.

Press Release

Cathay Capital North America (“Cathay Capital” or “Cathay”) is pleased to announce that it has completed a recapitalization of K’NEX Brands (“K’NEX” or the “Company”), a dynamic designer, manufacturer and marketer of construction, building and educational products for children. Founded in 1992 in Hatfield, Pennsylvania by two serial entrepreneurs, Joel and Bob Glickman, K’NEX is a leading company in the construction products sub-segment with several hundred patents related to creative, mind-expanding collections for children – ranging from toddlers through young adults. The K’NEX building sets of colorful rods, connectors and bricks are designed to be constructed into trucks, robots, roller coasters, Ferris wheels, tree-houses and more – the possibilities being endless! The Company also offers a range of products to encourage learning including Mighty Makers®, a line of building toys designed by women to inspire girls to explore STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) careers, and K’NEX Education Building Sets, designed for classroom and home use. Additionally, under license from Hasbro, K’NEX develops and distributes Tinkertoy® and Lincoln Logs® building sets as part of its broad product category offering.

Cathay Capital’s recapitalization of the Company was completed with Michael Araten, CEO (and son-in-law of one of the co-Founders), who brings almost a decade of experience running the family business. Along with the senior management of K’NEX, the Araten and Talley families (next generation Glickmans) will continue to have significant ownership in K’NEX’s new holding company, Smart Brands International Co. (“Smart Brands”), which was formed to acquire the interests of K’NEX and build the business into a global entity. Smart Brands will also seek to make complementary acquisitions in North America, Asia and Europe, primarily within the construction and educational products space.

The new strategic partnership between Cathay and the K’NEX team was forged by Jerry Welch (the former CEO of F.A.O. Schwarz) and John Lee (founder of Learning Curve Toys) from Bambini Partners LLC (“Bambini”), strategic advisors to K’NEX. Bambini introduced Cathay as an ideal partner to address K’NEX’s desire to become a global company. The transaction was also structured to assist the founding family with a successful generational transition plan. Cathay has provided capital to the business and access to its global network for distributing K’NEX in China, Europe and other parts of the world. Cathay has had significant experience in the toy and educational products industry with Cathay affiliate investments in Juratoys (France) and Kidsland (China).

Currently, K’NEX distributes its lines through stellar retailers including Amazon, Wal-Mart, Toys “R” Us, Target, Barnes and Noble, Lowe’s, Michael’s and Argos as well as through other specialty retailers, e-tailers and via club channels. The Company has a strong management team and retail presence in the United Kingdom and this platform will now address the market’s broader desire for K’NEX products across Europe. The China roll-out of K’NEX products has already commenced with the hiring of two distributors introduced to the Company by Cathay.

“We are thrilled to be investing in K’NEX through Smart Brands, a leading children’s products company and a very creative platform with tremendous potential in North America, China and Europe” stated both André Puong, Investment Director, and David G. Hoffman, Managing Partner, of Cathay Capital North America. Mingpo Cai, Founder and President of Cathay, added: “We are very supportive of Michael (Araten) and his outstanding team. This investment follows our philosophy of identifying seasoned entrepreneurial managers and families and helping them realize their vision on multiple continents.”

Members of the Glickman family – second and third generations – also involved in management and/or with this successful recapitalization include Ellen Araten, Nancy and Garrett Talley, Brenda Glickman and Candy Bernard.

On behalf of his family and team, Michael Araten said, “We are thrilled and honored to join the Cathay family of companies. Our strategic visions are perfectly aligned and we have already started to tap into Cathay’s deep expertise in China and Europe. We look forward to dynamically growing the K’NEX family of brands – including with new add-on acquisitions – around the globe.”

About Cathay Capital
Cathay Capital North America is an affiliate of Cathay Capital Private Equity, a leading international private equity firm focused on cross-border investment and committed to supporting the international expansion of middle-market companies in North America, China and Europe. The firm’s team of 50 professionals is based in New York, Shanghai, Beijing, Paris, Munich, and San Francisco and leverages its unique business model and platform to create value for companies across three continents. With $1.5 billion in assets under management, Cathay Capital Private Equity has completed over 50 buyouts and growth capital investments across three continents since its inception in 2007. Cathay Capital Private Equity invests in and assists middle-market companies in the consumer goods and services, healthcare, business services and technology industries. To learn more, please visit

About K’NEX
Founded in 1992, K’NEX, one of the world’s most innovative construction toy companies, was established to make and sell what has become leading integrated construction systems for children and provide solutions for America’s STEAM building programs. The Winner of over 370 international awards and recognitions, K’NEX is focused on Building Worlds Kids Love® and the Company encourages youngsters to “imagine, build and play”. From the living room to the classroom, K’NEX has been building toys specially designed for every age group and skill level. The K’NEX family of brands includes K’NEX Building Sets, K’NEX Thrill Rides, K’NEX Education®, K-FORCE Build and Blast™, Beasts Alive®, Mighty Makers®, Mario Kart WII™, Mario Kart7™, Mario Kart 8™, Super Mario™, Plants vs. Zombies™, Lincoln Logs® and Tinkertoy® – both under license from Hasbro – and more. Please join K’NEX as it helps build the leaders of tomorrow. To learn more, please visit goods and services, healthcare, business services and technology industries. To learn more, please visit