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Ikea founder dies at 91

ikea2Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of the Ikea furniture and furnishings store, has died in Sweden aged 91.

Kamprad concealed his fascist past until exposed in 1994, but this blip did not stop the Ikea stores concept making him of the world’s wealthiest men while he extolled a life of thrift and parsimony.

Kamprad, famously, drove around in an old Volvo. His series of Porsches remained largely unreported and the simple life he extolled involved a villa overlooking Lake Geneva, an estate in Sweden and vineyards in Provence.

Kamprad sold his simple, low-cost flat-pack furniture designs through large out-of-town stores with ample parking and cafes. His designs overcame any consumer reluctance to buying cheap and he ended up with a global retail empire and a personal wealth measured in the tens of billions.

He grew up on a farm in Smaland, southern Sweden, was dyslexic and came from a poor family, even by Sweden’s standards.

At 17, Kamprad registered a household goods mail order company called Ikea – his initials followed by those of the names of the family farm and local village, Elmtaryd and Agunnaryd. Seven decades later, Ikea would be the world’s largest furniture retailer with 350 stores in 29 countries selling $50 billion of goods a year.

The billionaire claimed that he had no real wealth as the business was held by a charitable trust. This was true only in part as the complex trust structure was designed to prevent a takeover while continuing family control and planning for the continuation of this structure after his death.

In 1994, a Swedish newspaper, Expressen, discovered Kamprad’s name in the archives of Per Engdahl, a Swedish fascist who recently had died. This revealed that Kamprad had joined Engdahl’s fascist movement in 1942, and had attended meetings, raised funds and recruited members.

He later explained this episode in his life as one he deeply regretted and that he had been influenced by his pro-Nazi, German grandmother but Swedes were shocked with the revelations as they reawakened memories of World War II and Nazi sympathisers. Business did not suffer.

Ingvar Feodor Kamprad married Kerstin Wadling in 1950 and Margaretha Sennert in 1963. He was a father to a daughter, Annika, and three sons, Peter, Jonas and Mathias.

Kamprad moved to Switzerland in 1976 and in 1982, he transferred control of the company to a foundation. In 2013 he stepped down from the board of Inter Ikea Group and named his son Mathias as its chairman. His other two sons hold key positions.

He made no secret of his alcoholism and continued to drink, drying out three times a year as a way of coping. He could afford to feed this addiction with a personal wealth of just under $50 billion.

The company statement reads as follow:

The founder of IKEA and Ikano, and one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the 20th century, Ingvar Kamprad, has peacefully passed away, at his home in Småland, Sweden, on the 27th of January. Surrounded by his loved ones, he died at the age of 91, following a short illness.

Ingvar Kamprad was born in 1926 in Småland in southern Sweden. At the early age of 17 he founded IKEA – the business that became his lifelong commitment. Ingvar’s driving force was the vision of creating a better everyday life for the many people.

“We are deeply saddened by Ingvar’s passing. 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”, says Torbjörn Lööf CEO and President of Inter IKEA Group.

Ingvar Kamprad was a great entrepreneur of the typical southern Swedish kind – hardworking and stubborn, with a lot of warmth and a playful twinkle in his eye. He worked until the very end of his life, staying true to his own motto that most things remain to be done.

Since 1988 Ingvar Kamprad did not have an operational role within IKEA but he continued to contribute to the business in the role of senior advisor, sharing his knowledge and energy with the IKEA co-workers.

”We are mourning the loss of our founder and dear friend Ingvar. 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”, says Jesper Brodin, CEO and President of the IKEA Group.

“Ingvar’s extensive knowledge and engagement over the years have been a huge source of inspiration. His heritage is always with us and we will continue to constantly search for new and better ways – to find solutions that no one else has thought of and to do great things for the many people, together”, says Lars Thorsén, CEO of Ikano Group.

Ingvar Kamprad will be missed and fondly remembered by his family and by IKEA and Ikano co-workers all over the world.