IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, who was worth $40 billion by some estimates, has died aged 91.
Kamprad died on Saturday at his home in Smaland, in southern Sweden, the chain’s Swedish unit, IKEA Sverige, said on Twitter on Sunday. He died peacefully following a short illness, it said.
“He will be much missed and warmly remembered by his family and IKEA staff all around the world,” the company said.
“Ingvar Kamprad was a great entrepreneur of the typical southern Swedish kind, hardworking and stubborn, with a lot of warmth and a playful twinkle in his eye,” IKEA said in a press release.
The Swedish entrepreneur was notorious for having been almost comically thrifty. He was known to be frugal in all he did, including buying his clothes at flea markets. There are also reports that he always waited until he was traveling in third world countries to get a haircut, so it would be cheaper.
Other ways his frugality played out include reports that he had planned to leave only about $300,000 of his fortune to his adopted daughter (reportedly , she said she was fine with that). He also drove a 1993 Volvo 240 (although he reportedly also had a Porsche). He left Sweden for Switzerland in the 1970s to avoid paying his home country’s high taxes. He often ate cheap meals at IKEA.
It should be noted that Kamprand also claimed that he was worth far less than the $40 billion Bloomberg attributed to him, or even the $5 billion Forbes said he had–although that was apparently in the context of fighting his tax bill. One report said he claimed to have about $118 million.
Kamprad’s life story is intimately linked to the company he founded at age 17 on the family farm. Kamprad, who was born on March 30, 1926, was a precocious entrepreneur who sold matchboxes to neighbors from his bicycle. He found that he could buy the matchboxes in bulk very cheaply from Stockholm and sell them at a low price but still make a good profit. From matches, he expanded to selling fish, Christmas tree decorations, seeds and later ballpoint pens and pencils.
He soon moved away from making sales calls and began advertising in local newspapers and operating a makeshift mail order catalog. He distributed his products via the local milk van, which delivered them to the nearby train station.
In 1950, Kamprad introduced furniture, pieces produced by manufacturers in the forests close to his home, into his catalog. After the positive response he received, he decided to discontinue all other products and focus on low-priced furniture.
Kamprad started IKEA in 1950, expanding the small retail operation he’d set up in his hometown of Smaland, Sweden via mail order–and adding furniture that would be shipped to customers’ homes and assembled in order to keep prices low.
“It is in the nature of Smaland to be thrifty,” Kamprad said in an interview a few years ago, celebrating his 90th birthday. “I don’t think I’m wearing anything that wasn’t bought at a flea market.”