Monday, February 16, 2009

Ingvar Kamprad

While taste is subjective and the merits of ready-to-assemble furniture are debatable, no-one would deny that millions of people have benefited from the wares of Ingvar Kamprad , founder of IKEA. For over 55 years, Kamprad (b. 1926 Sweden) has made it his business to supply customers with the goods they want, cheaply. Along the way his company has transformed from a distributor of miscellany to a direct-selling producer of unassembled furniture.

Middlemen are Useful

Kamprad developed his business acumen early in life, learning that he could purchase items in bulk from Stockholm and sell them individually for a profit in the provincial areas. He began by selling matches, pens, seeds, and so on. As an economic coordinator, Kamprad improved his customers' welfare even though he didn't produce anything. Along with millions of other similar entrepreneurs around the world, this alone would have made Kamprad an unremarkable, though important, hero. But our enterprising Swede was on to bigger things*. At the age of 17 he started IKEA with some money he received from his father. Within four years IKEA began distributing furniture manufactured by Swedish craftsmen.

But Sometimes It's Best to DIY

IKEA faced tough competition in the 1950's - so tough, in fact, that suppliers had been pressured to stop selling their products to IKEA. So Kamprad had his company design its own furniture. Before long IKEA sold nothing else. An IKEA draftsman named Gillis Lundgren is said to have first suggested the company design its furniture with portability in mind. Flat packaging means more than selling furniture in pieces; IKEA's furniture is designed to be a cheaper, but not prohibitively laborious alternative for customers. The concept has succeeded globally with 285 stores in 39 countries.

Not everyone is taken by IKEA's furniture, but I can report anecdotal evidence that college students and twenty-somethings across the US are fond of the stores. I've even had a friend from Ohio open her itinerary to make time for a trip to one of the Chicagoland stores. In Europe, a popular myth is that one in ten children are conceived in IKEA beds. Needless to say, Kamprad has left a positive mark on civilization, one that lives on in the bedrooms, kitchens, and living rooms of people around the world.

IKEA.com timeline
IKEA Wikipedia entry
About.com profile
Q&A about Kamprad by The Local, an English-language news-site about Sweden

*While the purpose of this blog is to celebrate innovators and not to paint complete portraits of the men and women we acknowledge, it should be noted that Kamprad had to apologize for involvement in a Nazi-sympathizing Swedish movement during WWII.

2 comments:

Clay said...

I'm going to assume that the last two sentences are intended to be read for laughs b/c the final sentence serves as a punch-line for its antecedent.

Martin Lindeskog said...

I have mentioned IKEA in my post on billionaires.