IKEA Founder Returns to Sweden

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Europe’s richest person, IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, 87, returns to Sweden from Switzerland where he’s been living for almost four decades.

According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index Kamprad is the world’s fourth wealthiest person. He fled his homeland because of high tax rates.

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During the 1980s, Kamprad introduced an intricate ownership structure of foundations as well as other legal entities in order to protect the IKEA brand and ensure its long-term future. Because he still controls this structure, Bloomberg credits him with the full value of IKEA and its operations when calculating his worth net.

Kamprad, however, claims that the total IKEA value should not be classed as his as he separated the retailer into two parts over three decades ago.

Inside an IKEA warehouse
Inside an IKEA warehouse

Ikea has grown despite austerity in Europe, and now Kamprad’s three sons must take up the challenge of spreading in markets like China and India and making further inroads online.

Kamprad’s decision to return to Sweden comes after several moves within the world’s biggest furniture retailer to prepare for a handover of power to the next generation. The Kamprad family still controls the complex corporate structure that makes up the Ikea empire and Kamprad himself has kept a tight grip behind the scenes.

From the 2015 IKEA catalogue
From the 2015 IKEA catalogue

Kamprad says he will settle down on a farm outside the town of Alhult in southern Sweden where he founded IKEA in 1943 and made the Swedish “flat-pack” furniture a global success. IKEA is an acronym “I” for Ingvar, “K” for Kamprad, “E” for the family farm Elmtaryd and “A” for the village of Agunnaryd.

Kamprad has now decided that the time is right for him to return home. “Moving back to Sweden gets me closer to my family and my old friends,” he told Swedish media. “After my dear wife Margareta died about a year and a half ago, there is less that keeps me in Switzerland.”

IKEA catalogue 2015
IKEA catalogue 2015

For the last decades Kamprad has been a mythical creature around IKEA. Just think about the naming of the products. It’s said that Kamprad, who says he is partly dyslexic, christened the products himself – beds after places in Norway, fabric and curtains after Scandinavian girls’ names, plants or flowers, and bookcases after Scandinavian boys’ names or certain professions. The reason being, that it was easier to keep track of names than numbers. “He loves to tell that story,” says Juni Wannberg, who is a guide in the Ikea Museum in Almhult.

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The running narrative on Kamprad is that he is the bastion of frugality—reusing tea bags, flying economy, and driving an old Volvo—a trait that also permeates Ikea.

IKEA Through the Ages
The exhibition of 800 m2 shows 20 different room settings with IKEA furniture and objects from the 1940’s until today. The exhibition is located in the basement of IKEA Tillsammans, the company’s culture center, adjacent to IKEA Värdshus.

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When the old IKEA Älmhult store was replaced in November 2012 by a new store, it left a building rich with history at the heart of the IKEA world – the perfect home for the new IKEA Museum. This first and only IKEA Museum will be “a house of stories”; stories about people, challenges, opportunities, design, homes and home furnishing. The new IKEA museum will open 30 June this year. The ambition of the museum is to engage all visitors and encourage them to take an active part in the IKEA story.

“Ingvar Kamprad has devoted his adult life to Ikea and its democratic ideals,” the company says.

IKEA Founder Returns to Sweden, edited by Tor Kjolberg

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The Swedish Furniture Giant