Who is Ingvar Kamprad?

Ingvar Kamprad was the founder of Swedish retailing giant IKEA, one of the world's most recognized brands known for stylish, functional and affordable furniture. Born into humble beginnings, Kamprad founded IKEA as a direct import and mail order business at the age of 17.

Kamprad began selling furniture in 1948 and introduced the IKEA catalogue in 1950. In 1953, IKEA unveiled flat-pack, self-assembly furniture—an innovation that solved high costs and damage rates and improved its distribution channels, which in turn led to an explosion in business.

For the company's 2020 fiscal year, IKEA reported 39.6 billion euros in retail sales, down slightly from 41.3 billion euros the year before. It had expanded its reach to more than 500 sales locations worldwide, staffed by 217,000 employees.

Kamprad died at his home in Sweden on January 27, 2018, at the age of 91. Forbes estimated Kamprad and his family to be worth $3.5 billion as of March 2015.

Key Takeaways

  • Ingvar Kamprad was the founder of IKEA. He created the business model that established the furniture company as a dominant global brand.
  • Kamprad was born into humble beginnings and founded IKEA at age 17 with help from his father.
  • IKEA has more than 500 locations and 217,000 staff globally.

Ingvar Kamprad and the IKEA Story

Kamprad founded IKEA in 1943 with help from his father. He began with mail order sales of small items such as wallets, picture frames and ballpoint pens. The IKEA name derives from Kamprad's initials (Ingvar Kamprad), the name of the farm on which he was raised (Elmtaryd) and the name of his home village (Agunnaryd).

IKEA did not pivot towards furniture until 1948, after seeing it become an increasingly profitable revenue stream. Kamprad sourced furniture from local designers, and helped develop the flat-pack system for transporting ready-to-assemble products that could be picked up easily in store or transported by truck.

Kamprad soon found himself in a pinch as local suppliers began to boycott the business. This forced Kamprad to bring production and design in-house and refine his business model. IKEA opened its first showroom in 1953, establishing the model of having customers see and browse products before purchase—an experience that has become a hallmark of shopping at IKEA.

IKEA opened its first store store outside of Sweden in 1963, in Norway. A second international store followed in 1969 in Denmark. A foray into the Japanese market failed in 1986. It entered the U.S. market in 1985 and had opened 26 stores by 1996. IKEA has since expanded all over the world and continues to be the major force in home furniture.

IKEA's Corporate Structure

Kamprad was a famously frugal man with a keen mind for business. One of his most prescient moves was structuring IKEA within a controlling trust that uses holding companies to own and operate various business functions. IKEA does allow some franchising, but a large amount of its business is managed directly through the trust, including its manufacturing and distribution arms. IKEA publicly reports basic figures on a voluntary basis, including the number of stores and overall revenue.

Investors have longed dreamed of seeing IKEA go public. However, even with the passing of its founder, Kamprad's sons are guiding the business and have made no indication that they will ever seek an IPO.

Kamprad's Controversy

There are many positive stories about Kamprad's frugal lifestyle, egalitarian view toward IKEA employees, and lifelong philanthropy. However, Kamprad's involvement with fascists in Sweden during his teenage years—and particularly his relationship with prominent Swedish fascist Per Engdahl—called into question his legacy. Kamprad addressed this controversy in a 1994 letter to employees, calling his relationship to Engdahl "a part of my life I bitterly regret."