STOCKHOLM – Ingvar Kamprad, whose boyhood business of selling pencils and seeds from his bicycle in Sweden eventually grew into the Ikea furniture chain, has died. He was 91.
“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 Smaland, Sweden, on Jan. 27,” Ikea said in an emailed statement on Sunday. He was “surrounded by his loved ones,” and died “following a short illness.”
Kamprad had an estimated net worth of $58.7 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, making him the world’s eighth-richest person. The wealth was accumulated by producing furniture for the masses that was affordable and easy to transport. The Ikea flat packs revolutionized the way in which tables, chairs and other items could be stored and shipped, before being assembled by the customer.
“We are mourning the loss of our founder and dear friend Ingvar,” Jesper Brodin, chief executive officer of the Ikea Group, the largest retailer in the Ikea franchise system, said in a statement. “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.”
Entire families descended on the company’s stores each week and Ikea’s merchandise became ubiquitous. Shoppers drop off their children at Ikea day-care centers, dine at Ikea restaurants and select from among thousands of products ranging from leather sofas to soup ladles. In 2017, 403 Ikea stores in 49 countries received 936 million visitors, and the chain generated sales of 38.3 billion euros.
U.K. style magazine Icon in 2005 named Kamprad the most influential taste-maker in the world, and wrote “if it wasn’t for Ikea, most people would have no access to affordable contemporary design. The company has done more to bring about an acceptance of domestic modernity than the rest of the design world combined.”
The name Ikea is made up of the founder’s initials and the first letters of the Elmtaryd farm and Agunnaryd village where he was raised. His flat-pack furniture was invented by Ikea employee Gillis Lundgren in 1956 when he tried to fit a table into the back of a car. Realizing the table was too bulky, Lundgren removed the legs. Storing and selling Billy book shelves or entire kitchens in pieces has let Ikea cut storage space and fill its trucks with more goods.
The concept of having customers pick up most of their own furniture in adjacent warehouses and transport it home for self-assembly also removed the need for costly delivery services and furniture salespeople assembling the products.
Ingvar Feodor Kamprad was born March 30, 1926, near the southern Swedish town of Almhult. His father, Feodor, looked after the family farm and his mother, Berta, ran a lodging house on the property during the summer. At age 5, Kamprad started his business ventures by selling matches to his neighbors. Buying in bulk in Stockholm and selling at a premium in smaller quantities, he got his introduction to a business practice he would cherish at Ikea.
The entrepreneur, who was still attending high school in Gothenburg, moved on to fish, Christmas-tree decorations, seeds and pencils, which he sold from his bicycle. Founding Ikea in 1943, Kamprad then started marketing pens, wallets and nylon stockings in the local media, and distributed them using a milk van. He began selling furniture in 1948.
Ikea opened its first store in Almhult, Sweden, in 1958.
Kamprad stepped down as CEO in the late 1980s. He continued to wield power as an adviser to the holding company, and he designed an ownership structure to ensure Ikea’s future survival and independence. An Ikea employee magazine in 2012 revealed that his three sons had been given more active roles at the closely held company. In 2013, he relinquished his role as chairman of Inter Ikea Group.
“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 adviser, sharing his knowledge and energy with the Ikea co-workers,” the company said on Sunday.
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