Economy

King Ingvar And His Three Sons - Inside The IKEA Family Saga

Founder of IKEA Ingvar Feodor Kamprad
Founder of IKEA Ingvar Feodor Kamprad
Olivier Truc

SWEDEN – Sagas are epic tales full of symbolic details, and the IKEA saga is no exception.

The story of the Swedish furniture giant, founded in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad, who is now 86 years old, definitely qualifies as a saga. It combines successes, setbacks and the carefully maintained mythology around the patriarch, who even though he is still active has taken a step back since he resigned as CEO in 1986. Today his role in the company is mostly advisory, but he still chairs the Kamprad family foundations.

As he hands the reigns of the company down to the next generation – his three sons – questions arise on the issue of IKEA’s sustainability, and Kamprad’s legacy.

In Helsingborg, where IKEA's Swedish headquarters are located, Jeanette Skjelmose, in charge of sustainable development, praises Ingvar Kamprad and his intimate knowledge of the group’s every little detail. “It is not uncommon to see him here.” Immediately, Ylva Magnusson, head of communications says nonchalantly: “He is no longer in control, his role is to advise.” “I saw him recently during an IKEA store visit in Amsterdam,” says Skjelmose. “But he visits less and less,” adds Magnusson.

The head of communications is firmly intent on getting the message out that Ingvar Kamprad, the patriarch, is no longer in command of the company. She wants to make it clear that he is no longer indispensable to the smooth running of IKEA. In January, the company announced an annual profit of 3.2 billion euros, an 8% increase in this post-Kamprad era.

Teflon Ingvar

Getting things wrong, making mistakes is part of Kamprad’s nine commandments. In 70 years, his company has not been spared embarrassing revelations: child labor, secret foundations with billions of euros stashed in tax havens, destruction of primitive or protected forests, forced labor from political prisoners in East Germany, corruption in Russia, Ingvar Kamprad’s Nazi past in the 1940s and 1950s, spying on employees in France. The list is long – and not complete. Some of these mistakes are directly attributable to Kamprad himself, and he has always gotten off the hook by making light of his weaknesses.

Kamprad has sometimes been IKEA’s worst enemy, but he was also its essence. Behind the scenes, IKEA’s executives must manage this paradox – using his image wisely, minimizing his presence, and only keeping his brilliance. No one disputes the old man’s business skills or his encyclopedic memory. Equally legendary is his stinginess and the fact that he sometimes acts like a simpleton.

“I have enough money to get by, he said, but the fact is that it is not me who has the money, it’s the foundation.” Don’t tell him he is Sweden’s richest man.

Johan Stenebo, one of IKEA’s top executives for 20 years, including three as Kamprad’s right hand man, says that he does not know anyone smarter. Stenebo, who wrote a book called “The Truth about IKEA: How IKEA Built Its Global Furniture Brand,” after resigning from his job after an argument with the Kamprad sons, says “Ingvar Scrooge,” as some call him, has developed a particular skill for dodging issues.

“When he is not around reporters, he never speaks about his problems,” says Johan Stenebo. “With the media, he uses his personal problems as a smokescreen,” for instance his struggles with alcohol. Swedish people, who admire his success, have always forgiven him because he doesn’t have the arrogance of other business leaders. He is always repentant and reserved, which helps a lot.

IKEA, the next generation

“One wonders what will happen when Kamprad’s gone?” asks Susanne Sweet, an expert on corporate responsibility at the Stockholm School of Economics. “Because the image of this farm boy from Smaland (Sweden’s southern province) – hardworking, thrifty, with all this mythology around him, close to the common folk… the Kamprad sons, who grew up in a very different world, don't represent that at all. Do they have any of the same values of their father?”

A photo illustrates perfectly the difficult question of IKEA's succession. The photo was taken in 1998, during the traditional Christmas speech that Kamprad gives every year to the employees from the Almhult IKEA store. Kamprad, who is sitting on stage, is looking at his eldest son Peter, who is making the speech for the first time. Kamprad looks worried, while Peter looks absolutely terrified, giving his speech under the watchful and inquisitive eye of the patriarch. Would Peter be the one to take over the reigns of this global giant, with more than 150,000 employees? Would Peter and his brothers be up to the task? Kamprad has done nothing to make it easy for them.

The photo was published in Aug. 2002, by the newspaper Smalandspost, with the headline: “Kramprad’s three sons take over IKEA.” The article, written by Bosse Vikingson, a reporter who had at the time already been following the IKEA saga for 15 years, sheds light on one of the mysteries of this discrete empire – life after Ingvar. The order of succession between the founder’s three sons finally seemed to be clarified. It was Peter Kamprad, who was 38 years old in 2002, who would succeed his father, according to the article. He would head the Stitching Ingka Foundation, the Dutch-registered foundation who owns Ingka Holding, the parent company for IKEA stores. His two brothers, Jonas and Mathias would also be a part of the adventure, Jonas on the design side and Mathias on the entrepreneurial side.

Putting on a show

A smooth succession? Not so sure. It was clear that none of the three sons would take on their father’s omniscient role. Kamprad feared that his sons would one day tear each other apart. “I do not want my sons to compete against each other for the right to head the company. Sooner or later, I will have to name one,” he said in 1998. Since he started talking about his succession in the late 1970s, he has been planning things so that IKEA doesn't end up on the chopping blocks after his death, because of inheritance problems.

“Peter Kemprad’s Christmas speech to IKEA employees was a harbinger sign” wrote Bosse Vikingson. Fifteen years after that photo, what has happened? One of Ingvar Kamprad’s last photos is from Autumn 2012, when the historic Almhult store was re-opened after its refurbishment. We see Kamprad shaking a few hands, smiling, but tightly controlled by a squad of collaborators. “He is old now,” says Vikingson. “IKEA executives make sure he doesn’t do too much, even if they cannot really tell him what to do.”

For Christmas 2012, though, it was Kamprad who went up on stage to make his annual speech. Since that fated 1998 photo, Peter has never given another Christmas speech. The three brothers rarely appear in public, and when they do, it is strictly orchestrated. When they talk to journalists, the do not talk about themselves. In fact, they have only been interviewed once, for a book that was approved by Ingvar Kamprad. The three brothers are interviewed together, and we never find out who says what.

For tax purposes

For three and a half years, the spokesman for the father and his three sons is a Norwegian man called Per Heggenes. He tells Le Monde that all three sons have quit their operational roles in IKEA. So Peter will not become the head of the company. All three sons have made it clear that they want to work for the foundations. “But they do not only sit for board meetings,” says Per Heggenes. “Their role is to ensure that IKEA’s culture and philosophy are transferred to the next generation.”

Officially, the division of roles was made according to each brother’s interests and character. Jonas is the creative type. He trained as a designer and is interested in product development. Mathias, who is more business oriented, is interested in the global concept of the company. Peter, the economist, helped develop the Ikano bank, created by his father, and has decided to stay there.

“They prefer it this way, because it gives them the necessary distance to keep an eye on what is happening and make sure that the basic principles that made IKEA into the success it is are being followed,” says Heggenes. “Everything has been done to make sure IKEA lives on forever.”

In reality, this complex construction is just destined for tax purposes – and ensure the survival of IKEA after its founder’s death – even in the case of a disagreement between his sons.

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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