Ingvar Kamprad: The IKEA Founder's Rags-To-Riches Journey

The path to success isn’t easy. One has to work hard, sacrifice comforts and walk on an obstacle laden path. Some entrepreneurs came from wealthy families. Others have a rag-to-riches tale. Swede Ingvar Kamprad was one with literally no support and later on joined the list of the richest people in the world.

Ingvar is the founder of the furniture company, IKEA. Setting up IKEA and representing his country on the global stage, Ingvar Kamprad’s journey is inspirational and mind numbing!

Ingvar Kamprad Education & Childhood

As a child, Ingvar lived on a small farm called Elmtaryd in the Swedish province of Smaland. Sweden was facing the wrath of poverty those days; the hardships he was subjected to was a blessing in disguise as he invested all the values gained in these tough times to form IKEA’s ethics. Ingvar began selling matches at six. At the age of ten, he sold Christmas decorations, pencils, and fish. Despite being dyslexic, Ingvar performed well in academics because of which his father awarded him a small amount of money. With the money, he opened a company named IKEA, an abbreviation for Ingvar Kamprad from Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd.

Setting Up IKEA

Ingvar Kamprad IKEA
IKEA Logo

After setting up IKEA, Kamprad used milk trucks to deliver his furniture goods. In 1947, he began selling locally made items of furniture. However, Ingvar faced intense criticism in 1955 as manufacturers protested against Ingvar’s low prices. This was a turning point for the company as it shifted towards flat pack—a piece of furniture or other equipment that is sold in pieces packed flat in a box for easy transport and is assembled by the buyer. This was a change in IKEA’s ideology regarding furniture.

Ingvar targeted the middle-class as IKEA presented affordable and stylish furniture was easy on the pockets. By his new idea, Ingvar could serve all sections of the society, rich or not,  simultaneously with a unique brand of furniture equipment.

Flat packaging minimized shipping costs, transportation damages, and increased the store inventory capacity. Ingvar planned and modified IKEA stores to suit customer expectations.

A Worldwide Phenomenon

Ingvar soon expanded his business into various parts of Sweden. A few years later, IKEA established its presence in Norway, Germany, and then all over Europe. This was the thrust to setting up IKEA globally. Ingvar’s venture was accepted globally and this was attested when IKEA opened up a store in the city of Shanghai; 80,000 people visited the store! IKEA has over 300 stores in 38 countries across the globe.

IKEA opened its first store in Japan in 1974, and in Australia, Canada, and Hong Kong in 1975. Later on, IKEA was launched in countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, Belgium, and the Dominican Republic in the year 2010.

The Stitching IKEA Foundation

The Stitching INGKA foundation is named after Ingvar Kamprad. This foundation owns INGKA Holding, the parent company for all IKEA stores. This charitable foundation was named as the wealthiest charity in the world in the year 2006, which was then overtaken by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Ingvar was the chairman of The Stitching IKEA foundation.

In an instance of charity, IKEA Australia had agreed to match dollar for dollar co-workers’ donations and donated all the sales of the IKEA Blue Bag to help people affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tusnami.

Becoming One Of The Richest Men

In 2004, the Swedish business magazine declared Ingvar as one of the world’s wealthiest people. However, this wasn’t an accurate measure since the magazine assumed  Ingvar’s wealth equal to IKEA’s valuation at that time. In 2010, Forbes magazine estimated Ingvar’s wealth at 23 billion USD. His ranking decreased substantially from 11th to 162 in the standings due to a lawsuit that prevented his family from from access to his funds. In 2015, Ingvar was the eighth richest person in the world according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Ingvar Kamprad net worth is $58.7 billion.


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Ingvar’s Charity

Ingvar was known for simplicity and frugality, and his company had a reputation for community outreach and philanthropy. IKEA has actively supported UNICEF and other important committees of the United Nations.

The Swedish Furniture Chain

In 1973, IKEA established its first store outside Scandinavia; the shop was set up in Switzerland. The expansion of IKEA cemented Sweden as a producer of top-class furniture. The employees wore jeans, shirts, and jumpers—a down-to-earth image of Swedish people.


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Ingvar Kamprad Leadership & Management Style

Ingvar had razor sharp focus towards IKEA’s development. He used to visit IKEA stores till his last breath. Ingvar was a personality one should look up to; he used to travel in economy and treated his employees as ‘co-workers’. He encouraged his employees to dress informally and drove an old Volvo.

Apart from his fascist comments, Ingvar will be remembered as one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the 20th century. His simplicity and dedication depict a clear picture on how a real leader should guide his employees. Starting a company while facing the wrath of poverty, Ingvar has proved that nothing is impossible to achieve. He passed away in 2018, leaving behind a company that changed the face of the furniture industry.