CEOs Gone Wild: Ingvar Kamprad
The emperor of IKEA is immune to scandal. Just like his company.
The IKEA catalogue now trumps the Bible as the world's most published work, with almost 200 million copies distributed each year.
So why doesn't IKEA inspire the same fury that McDonald's -- or Wal-Mart (WMT), or Nike (NKE) -- do?
In part, it's IKEA's willingness and ability to address charges of exploitation, often before they're even made: The firm has, for example, summarily fired suppliers found to have abusive labor practices.
For example, IKEA met with a warm reception when it first opened in Israel - despite the fact that, in 1994, Kamprad was revealed to have been a member of Swedish pro-Nazi groups during World War II. The founder did say that it was "a part of [his] life which [he] bitterly regrets."
But Kamprad remains drawn to strong opinions, strongly expressed. In 1976, he authored The Furniture Dealer's Testament, whose prose sounds uncomfortably like a political manifesto: "It is our duty to expand...Those who cannot or will not join us are to be pitied. What we want to do, we can and will do...To a glorious future!"
Even for a Swede, Kamprad's not exactly what you'd call easygoing.
The Testament also declares "wasting resources" to be "a mortal sin," and cost-cutting is Kamprad's religion. IKEA aims to cut prices by about 3% every year; Kamprad himself drives a 15-year-old Volvo which he occasionally sleeps in on business trips, to save money on hotels (conservative estimates of his personal wealth put it at around $40 billion, making him the 7th richest man in the world).
Kamprad even refused to cut the ribbon on the statue of him erected in his hometown; instead, he untied it, folded it, and handed it to the mayor, saying "Now you can use this again."
Perhaps that's why he's so obsessively secretive about IKEA's bottom line. The company is privately held, never releases earnings reports and has a labyrinthine business structure. Some say this enables IKEA to evade both public scrutiny and tax obligations. The Ikea Group is actually owned by the Stichting Ingka Foundation, a charitable trust based in Holland and controlled by Kamprad and his 3 sons.
But with Habitat locations closing their doors all over the UK, IKEA's acquisition of the firm is now being called "a debacle."
No word yet on whether the Kamprad boys will be asked to pay with their lives.
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