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Motivational Leaders: Ingvar Kamprad

Swede Ingvar Kamprad began with two empty hands to become one of the richest people in the world – as the founding owner of furniture chain store IKEA. Here’s his story, from farm life to flat-packs.

Ingvar Feodor Kamprad was born on 30 March 1926, on a small farm called Elmtaryd near the village of Agunnaryd, in the Swedish province of Småland. To most present-day Swedes, the date and the names, in a famously rural region, resound of harsher times, when Sweden was agrarian and poor. They speak of hard work, frugality and egalitarianism rooted in shared poverty – values which would eventually enter the IKEA ethos.

Kamprad began his career at the age of six, selling matches. When just ten, he criss-crossed the neighbourhood on his bicycle, selling Christmas decorations, fish and pencils.

At 17, in 1943, Kamprad’s father rewarded him with a small sum of money for doing well in school, despite being dyslexic. With it, Ingvar founded a business named IKEA, an abbreviation for Ingvar Kamprad from Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd, his boyhood home.

Two years after starting IKEA, Kamprad began using milk trucks to deliver his goods. In 1947, he started selling furniture made by local manufacturers. By 1955, manufacturers began boycotting IKEA, protesting against Kamprad’s low prices. This forced him to design items in-house.

Kamprad was also behind the simple, yet revolutionary innovation that is the flat pack. He began selling IKEA products in flat-pack form, from his own warehouses. Thus the basic IKEA concept – simple, affordable flat-pack furniture, designed, distributed and sold in-house – was complete.

The driving idea behind IKEA was, and is, that anyone should be able to afford stylish, modernist furniture. Kamprad felt he was not just cutting costs and making money, but serving the people as well.

Kamprad’s business grew. And grew. IKEA expanded throughout Sweden, to Norway and Denmark, via Germany to continental Europe, and on to the ends of the world. When IKEA opened in Shanghai, 80,000 people visited the store. Today, there are over 300 IKEA stores in the world – in 38 countries. All this time, Kamprad has never borrowed money or issued a stock.