Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, who died on Saturday, was known the world-over for his furniture. But even people across the world who have used and loved his furniture hardly know much about the man behind them.
In light of this, we thought we'd share with you some interesting and unsavory aspects of the late billionaire, including his Nazi past which he failed to live down till his death.
When you hear of a person living an ostentatious life, all you can think of is, "Man, this guy/lady is a major show-off." Turns out, there's a way to be ostentatious but completely frugal at the same time. Who knew?! Let us enlighten you on what that means.
Kamprad used to drive around in a 15-year-old white Volvo, he wore second-hand clothing (because thrift shops are awesome), he bought his fruits and veggies only during the late afternoon hours so he could haggle prices down and last, but not the least, he would get a haircut only when he traveled to developing countries because they were cheaper.
He did not have a private jet in spite of being a billionaire. He chose to travel only economy and would always stay at budget hotels. He never touched the mini bars in the rooms as well.
However, Kamprad liked to splurge on rare occasions, buying a bit of snuff or the occasional Swedish fish roe or a new shirt and cravat.
Now for many of you, this will probably seem like a unusual way to live, especially if you overtook Bill Gates in 2004 to be the world's richest man; but for Kamprad, the way he lived perfectly matched the way his business worked and how it works to this day; DIY, frugal, minimal, a little fancy every once in a while.
At the ripe old age of 91, Kamprad passed away peacefully in his sleep in his own bed at his Smaland, Sweden bungalow on January 27.
The flat-pack furniture company that he founded is still one of the go-to brands for people who want to buy low-cost DIY furniture that they can assemble themselves.
The company is presently worth £51 billion or roughly $73 billion.
Kamprad built his furniture empire like how he lived life. He bought land for cheap and built large warehouse-type stores. He filled those stores with materials that he got at discounted rates and he packaged those items into boxes. The consumers are then required to assemble the furniture at home by themselves. He kept things simple and pocket-friendly.
Margaretha, Kamprad's second wife, wanted a house in Paris (I mean, who wouldn't?), but her billionaire husband agreed only on the condition that they rent out some of the rooms. He would refuse to take taxis in London and even traveled in a bus to an industry awards ceremony.
His employees emulated him when they were at work or traveling to work. They flew only in economy, did not take taxis, wrote on both sides of the paper and recycled cups. Doing this, they kept office costs down and the business profits skyrocketed.
People in Sweden think of Kamprad as a genius in business. Here was a self-made man who earned his billions by creating a furniture empire but lived like any other person who wanted to save money.
Chief executive and president of the parent company Inter Ikea Group, Torbjörn Lööf, said on January 28: "We will remember his dedication and commitment to always side with the many people. To never give up, always try to become better and lead by example."
The frugal founder of the most successful DIY furniture brand had a few dark secrets hidden up his sleeve. Well, they weren't exactly unknown but they are definitely surprising.
Kamprad was a raging alcoholic, which he tried to control by staying away from alcohol three times a year. The rest of the year, though, he drank like there was no tomorrow.
However, the most notorious facet of Kamprad wasn't his drinking.
In 1994, Expressen, a Stockholm newspaper, revealed that he had joined a fascist party in Sweden in 1943 (WWII ended in 1945) and apparently become a Nazi sympathizer at around the same time he founded the company.
The paper said that his name appeared in the archives of Per Engdahl, a Swedish fascist leader who died recently. Kamprad is said to have helped out the party at meetings and stayed involved even after the Second World War ended. He was active with the party till the 1950s and even wrote to Engdahl, talking about how proud he was of his participation.
When the news broke, the Swedish public was quite shocked but they waited for Kamprad to say something first.
Kamprad sent out a letter to his employees at Ikea saying that his affiliation with the party was the "greatest mistake of my life", "my greatest fiasco" and "a part of my life that I bitterly regret."
Even after apologizing and saying he had stopped his involvement with fascists, the stain of Nazism was hard to get rid of.
Elizabeth Asbrink wrote a book about him in 2011 which suggested that he had much deeper ties with the party. She said that he was a recruiter and even a fundraiser which prompted Swedish intelligence to even open a case file on Kamprad.
The man behind Ikea
Kamprad was born on March 30, 1926 in Pjatteryd, Sweden to modest farmers. Even though he was dyslexic, Kamprad always showed signs of being an intelligent businessman even at the age of five. He would sell matchboxes, Christmas cards, pens, wall hangings as well as berries that he picked in the forests.
At the age of 17, Kamprad founded the now-famous brand Ikea. The name is made of his initials, IK, along with the name of his farm, E (Elmtaryd) and the name of his village, A (Agunnaryd).
His father had given him money as a reward for trying so hard in spite of his dyslexia and he used the money to register the company. Pretty soon, he was posting ads in newspapers and selling his furniture through mail order and sending it to the station on a milk cart.
He had a showroom by 1953 but it wasn't until 1956 that he had a brainwave of an idea and changed the model of IKEA to what we all know and love today. He saw a delivery man removing the legs off a table so that it was easier to transport and voila, flat-pack DIY furniture was born.
Ikea, as expected, took off like a spaceship but his first marriage to Kerstin Wadling wasn't doing well after being together for 10 years.
He married Margaretha Sennert in 1963 and they had three sons together: Peter, Jonas, and Mathias.
By the time the 60s rolled in, there were IKEA stores all across Scandinavia. He cut costs by moving to Poland for materials and manufacturers after his rivals in Sweden tried to organize a boycott by his original suppliers.
After the move to Poland for materials and manufacturers, the Ikea revolution was cemented in the pages of history. In 1966, the first ever IKEA store was opened near Philadelphia in the US. One year later, the first UK store was opened in Warrington and by the end of 2018, there will be 22 stores in the UK. Stores in Russia and China followed after the UK.
At present, the company generates a revenue of more than £33 billion from 412 stores in 49 countries.
The interesting thing is that one in every five British children is said to have been conceived on an Ikea mattress.
Ikea's furniture is supposed to be simple but its founder was far from it. If you looked under that calm exterior, you would have found an incredibly turbulent and complex man.
Kamprad was ambitious AF, we knew this from his entrepreneurship skills which started at the age of five, but he was also a complete control freak with an almost cult-like vision of what the company should be about.
The "Ikea Bible", or more formally known as The Furniture Dealer's Testament, has pledges such as: "We do not need fancy cars, posh titles, tailor-made uniforms or other status symbols. We rely on our own strength and our own will."
All the employees are called Ikeans and the stores are all run according to the "Ikea way" which mostly included "renewal, thrift, responsibility, humbleness towards the tasks and simplicity" literally written down as the core values.
Even though Kamprad lived a frugal life, he also had expensive items which he mostly kept to himself. Aside from the old Volvo that he drove around, he had a top-of-the-line Porsche. He had a villa which overlooked Lake Geneva, an estate in Sweden and even vineyards in Provence.
Kamprad would return to his home village of Agunnaryd every year faithfully and he would always hug the villagers and buy groceries but what many don't know is that the man spent 40 years in tax exile. First, he hid out in Denmark and then in Switzerland. He went back home only when Margaretha died in 2011.
It emerged in 2012 that Ikea had used political prisoners from former East Germany between the years of 1960 and 1990 as forced labour. That year, there were also claims that the furniture giant was using wood from forests in Russia that were 600 years old.
The European Commission said in 2017 that it had launched an investigation into Ikea's tax set-up because of its complex business structure. The company is still privately owned and is being held in a family trust foundation based in Liechtenstein.
After the news of Kamprad's former association with the fascist party came out, Jewish groups called for a boycott of Ikea products but Swedes and everyone else around still bought the products.
In 2008, a statue of Kamprad was erected in his hometown in Sweden and he went for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. In typical Kamprad fashion, he did not cut the ribbon, but instead untied it, folded it neatly and gave it to the mayor, telling him that he could use it again.
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