Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of Swedish furniture behemoth IKEA, passed away peacefully at his Småland home in southern Sweden on Saturday.
Describing him as “one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the 20th century,” his company said that “he will be much missed and warmly remembered by his family and IKEA staff all around the world.”
“Ingvar Kamprad was a great entrepreneur of the typical southern Swedish kind – hard working and stubborn, with a lot of warmth and a playful twinkle in his eye,” said IKEA.
“He worked until the very end of his life, staying true to his own motto that most things remain to be done,” the company added.
Mr. Kamprad, who established the revolutionary furniture company as a seventeen-year-old with the money he received from his father as a gift for his good grades in school despite suffering from dyslexia, stepped down from IKEA’s board in 2013, when he was eighty-seven.
“I see this as a good time for me to leave the board of Inter IKEA Group. By that we are also taking another step in the generation shift that has been ongoing for some years,” he said at the time.
“Ingvar Kamprad was a unique entrepreneur who had a big impact on Swedish business and who made home design a possibility for the many, not just the few,” said Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in a statement honoring the pioneering businessman – as reported by the Swedish news agency TT.
“We are mourning the loss of our founder and dear friend Ingvar,” IKEA CEO Jesper Brodin said in a statement. “His legacy will be admired for many years to come and his vision –- to create a better everyday life for the many people -– will continue to guide and inspire us.”
Known for his thrifty and down-to-earth demeanor, Mr. Kamprad lived a relatively simple life despite being a billionaire many times over, driving an inconspicuous Volvo, traveling economy class more often than not and dressing rather unpretentiously.
Speaking to Sweden’s TV4 in 2016, the business icon said that frugality came naturally to the people of Småland.
“If you look at me now, I don’t think I’m wearing anything that wasn’t bought at a flea market,” he said.
“We have Småland in the blood, and we know what a krona is – even though it is not as much as it was when we bought candy and went to elementary school,” he said with reference to the Swedish currency.
Born on March 30, 1926, Mr. Kamprad exhibited aptitude and advanced business skills at an abnormally early age, selling matches to neighbors when he was just five.
From matchboxes he upgraded to selling other stuff he knew would fetch decent profits, including seeds, pens and pencils, and fish, etc. until he reached the age of seventeen; that’s when his keen entrepreneurial mind gave birth to IKEA with his father’s gift money, as mentioned earlier.
The first two letters (I and K) of the company name are his initials while the last two are the first letters of Elmtyard – the farm he grew up on – and his hometown Agunnaryd, respectively.
Initially, the company sold kitchen tables, which were basically replicas of Kamprad’s uncle Ernst’s designs.
Within five years, Kamprad had forayed fulltime into the furniture business, using a milk van to ferry his products to the local railway station for onward delivery to his growing mail-order clientele.
The big break, however, came in 1956 with IKEA’s groundbreaking flat-pack furniture, an idea that germinated in Kamprad’s shrewd business mind when he saw an employee remove the legs from a table to fit it in a customer’s car.
He realized that allowing customers the flexibility of assembling furniture themselves, rather than selling them pre-assembled pieces, would not only benefit the company in terms of savings on transportation and storage costs, but would also be much more practical and economical for customers using public transport, or their own vehicles.
Managing Director of GlobalData Retail Neil Saunders said that the idea of selling flat-pack furniture was, indeed, a pioneering effort by the Swedish billionaire that “left an indelible imprint on retail and on consumers’ lives.”
Saunders said that Mr. Kamprad “believed people should be able to buy quality furniture at accessible prices, as long as they were willing to do some assembly themselves.”
The pioneer’s life, however, was not without its fair share of controversies, having been on the receiving end of much criticism for staying outside of Sweden, mainly Switzerland, to avoid his home country’s high income-tax policy.
Also, following a report by Swedish tabloid newspaper EXPRESSEN that revealed Kamprad’s association with Nazi groups in the 1940s and 50s, including his contacts with Swedish far-right politician Per Engdahl, Kamprad said that he “bitterly” regretted that part of his life.
In a 1988 book, the furniture magnate acknowledged his close relations with Engdahl, saying that he had been a member of the man’s Swedish Movement between 1942 and 1945.
He confessed that he had been prejudiced in his support for Adolf Hitler having been greatly influenced as a child by his German grandmother who was an ardent supporter of the Führer.
“Now I have told all I can,” he said during a book release event in Stockholm. “Can one ever get forgiveness for such stupidity?”
According to the BBC, Elisabeth Asbrink accused Kamprad in a 2011 book of being much more actively involved in the Nazi movement than what he actually owned up to, saying that he served as a recruiter for a Swedish fascist group and continued his liaisons with far-right supporters long after World War II was over.
A Kamprad spokesman said at the time that the billionaire had long owned up to his indiscretions and had no lingering “Nazi-sympathising thoughts” in his head, whatsoever.
Kamprad is survived by his daughter Annika, whom he adopted with his first wife Kerstin Wadling, and three sons, Peter, Jonas and Mathias from his second wife Margaretha Kamprad-Stennert, who passed away in 2011.
After living for more than 40 years abroad, 38 of them in Switzerland, Kamprad returned to Sweden in 2014, to spend his twilight years at home in Småland.
Some reactions to the news of Ingvar Kamprad’s death:
A Swedish entrepreneur extraordinaire has left us. 41 countries, 130k employees and a brand known through both the swearing over assembling stuff and the smartness in design #RIP #IKEA #Ingvar Kamprad #Sweden https://t.co/pkj6qiySR8
— Stefan Laurell (@Stefan_Laurell) January 28, 2018
— Patricio Cisneros (@patocisnerosc) January 28, 2018
#Ingvar Kamprad- a visionary entrepreneur whose work philosophy & ethics were the foundation of IKEA stores- where I had worked at for my very first full-time job, was an inspiration to every Ikano co-worker till today & laid the cornerstones for a civic-minded corporate culture.
— Sophia Leo 🌼🐝🎶 (@SophiaLeo) January 28, 2018
And, here’s a rather nasty tweet, taunting at IKEA’s often difficult-to-follow assembling instructions.
— ThatOllieGuy (@IsItOllie) January 28, 2018