Ingvar Kamprad, the 91-year-old founder of iconic Swedish retail furniture chain IKEA, died at his home in Älmhult on Saturday, following a short bout with an undisclosed illness, his company said in a prepared statement.
“He will be much missed and warmly remembered by his family and IKEA staff all around the world,” the company said,” said IKEA Sverige, the chain’s Swedish unit.
Known for his humble style and almost religious devotion to simplicity and efficiency, Kamprad founded IKEA at the tender age of 17 and first sold matchboxes, fish, Christmas tree decorations, and pens. He chose the name IKEA as a composite of his own first and last initials, as well as the first letters of the family farm, Elmtaryd, and the nearby village Agunnaryd.
Furniture appeared on his list of goods in 1950 after finding a receptive audience for the simple wooden items produced by local craftsmen in his home village.
After deciding to focus on the home furniture business, Kamprad built the company into a global juggernaut that kept to his philosophy of keeping prices low by requiring customers to assemble the easily constructed pieces on their own.
Known for its embrace of typically Swedish motifs that included using the country’s blue and yellow flag colour scheme for the logo and serving traditionally Scandinavian dishes in its cafeteria, Kamprad’s own relationship with Sweden was often complicated.
He left the country in 1976 for Switzerland in protest of his homeland’s crippling taxes – the highest in the world at the time. He did now return to Sweden for nearly 40 years.
While IKEA’s furniture is known for its “quintessentially Swedish” designs, Kamprad moved the company’s production unit to Communist-era Poland in 1961 to take advantage of the country’s cheap labour costs.
In a 1998 book about the history of IKEA – which Kamprad co-authored – he admitted to an earlier report from Swedish daily Expressen that Kamprad was a supporter of Sweden’s Fascist leader Per Engdahl in the 1940s. Engdahl was a rabid racial nationalist and anti-Semite, who praised Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and modelled his own political ideology along the lines of Italy’s Fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
Referring to the far-right leanings of his earlier years, Kamprad described it as “a part of my life which I bitterly regret.”
In his later years, Kamprad was frequently listed as one of the richest businessmen in the world, with an estimated net worth of €22.5 billion, based largely on the value of IKEA’s assets. Legal documents later revealed by his own lawyers later showed that IKEA’s ownership had years earlier been transferred to the popular tax haven, Lichtenstein, in the name of a foundation that Kamprad created.
His outside investments in banking and real estate still left him enormously wealthy, though he showed little appetite in his life for flouting his success. Kamprad was known to lead a frugal life and drive a simple Volvo car well into his later years.
He returned the area of his youth in 2014, only a year after stepping down as IKEA’s chairman. He death Saturday came only a short distance from where his internationally famous company was first conceived three-quarters of a century earlier.