IKEA has turned a page in a mega-successful (if at times scandal-struck) saga with the departure of the creator of the Swedish furniture retailer, Ingvar Kamprad, from the board of Inter IKEA Group. The 87-year-old founded the business in rural Sweden 70 years ago. His youngest son, Mathias, will take over as its chairman. Kamprad Sr. stepped down in 1986 as chief executive.
In the beginning, IKEA was little more than a village drugstore, but at the age of 17 he founded the brand, opening his first furniture-only store in 1953, with its own designs.
His customer-assembled kits came three years after that, and more of the self-service concept. Kamprad became a multi-billionaire, has been a resident of Switzerland since the 1970s, and still keeps a tight grip on the running of the empire behind the scenes.
The bulk of IKEA’s 313 stores are in Europe. The company says the business climate remains challenging. It has high hopes for the Chinese market, and is investing 1 billion euros in three shopping centres there, the first due to open next year.
Kamprad has overcome scandals in the past. He was active in a pro-fascist nationalist movement in 1942, and decades later, when it received media attention, in a letter to his employees, he called it his greatest mistake.
It emerged from the archives of the secret police in the former East Germany that political prisoners were used for unpaid labour by IKEA suppliers up to the 1980s. Last year, IKEA admitted it knew about it and didn’t stop it. Also in 2012, in France it illegally accessed police records on employees and customers.
Then horse meat was found in IKEA meatballs, and fecal matter in one of its deserts, meant to be a chocolate, butterscotch confection with marshmallow. Worldwide scrutiny and recalls followed.
But the revolutionary resilience of Kamprad’s creation has proved itself time and again, and IKEA continues seemingly unbeatable against many competitors, even with products whose names to non-Scandinavians are frequently unpronounceable.