Ingvar Kamprad is a Swedish entrepreneur who founded the affordable furniture chain IKEA, more than 70 years ago and is now one of the world’s richest self-made billionaires.
Ingvar began by developing a business as a young boy, selling matches to neighbors from his bicycle. From matches, he expanded to selling fish, Christmas tree decorations, seeds and later ballpoint pens and pencils. When Ingvar was 17, his father gave him a cash reward for succeeding in his studies which he used to help establish the business.
IKEA was officially founded in 1943 at Ingvar’s uncle Ernst’s kitchen table. (The acronym IKEA is made up of the initials of his name plus Elmtaryd (the family farm) and the nearby village of Agunnaryd). IKEA originally sold pens, wallets, picture frames, table runners, watches, jewellery and nylon stockings - meeting needs with products at reduced prices. In 1948, Ingvar diversified his portfolio adding furniture by mail order and introducing catalogues and advertising.
The first IKEA showroom was opened in Almhult in Sweden in 1953 and this meant for the first time, consumers were able to see and touch the home furnishings before ordering them. The showroom was born out of a price war with a local competitor – as both companies lowered prices quality was threatened. By opening a showroom, IKEA demonstrated the function and quality of its low priced products.
In 1956, IKEA started designing its own furniture range, ironically from competitor pressure for suppliers to boycott IKEA. Later that year, Ingvar revolutionized furniture making by introducing “flatpacking” which began when an IKEA co-worker removed the legs of a LOVET table so that it could fit into his car. IKEA has become known worldwide for its innovative and stylish designs. Almost all IKEA products are designed to for flat packaging, which reduces shipping costs, minimizes transport damage, increases store inventory capacity, and makes it easier for customers to take the furniture home themselves, rather than needing delivery.
While generally a private person, Ingvar has published a few notable works. He first detailed his philosophies of frugality, simplicity and enthusiasm in a manifesto entitled A Testament of a Furniture Dealer. Written in 1976, it is considered the fundamental ideology of the IKEA retail concept, and its values are integrated into all of IKEA's activities. Many stories about Ingvar are a part of his heritage. When he talks to IKEA staff at different locations, his main theme is often management by example, and he uses himself as an example. He always flies economy class, sits in second-class train cars when possible, never stays at expensive hotels and has driven the same Volvo for two decades. “The IKEA spirit is strong and living reality. Simplicity in our behaviour gives us strength. Simplicity and humbleness characterise us in our relations with each other, our suppliers and our customers.”
Ingvar is father to one adopted daughter and three biological sons. His sons – Peter, Jonas and Mathias have incredible influence at IKEA and lead the overall company vision and long term strategy. In 2013, his youngest son, Mathias, was named chairman of Inter IKEA holdings SA after Ingvar stepped down.
So, why is he a #Houseproud hero?
Ingar Kamprad wanted consumers to be able to buy beautiful, modern, affordable furniture and he revolutionised how we shop for it, buy it and even put it together. Today, IKEA is one of the largest, most successful privately held companies in the world, with over 200 stores in 31 countries, employing over 75,000 people and generating over $12 billion in sales annually. He says:
“To design a desk which may cost $1,000 is easy for a furniture designer but to design a functional and good desk which shall cost only $50 can only be done by the very best”