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Happy Birthday! Sweden's Ikea founder turns ninety

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Ingvar Kamprad hugging an employee in 2006. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/TT
09:54 CEST+02:00
One of Sweden's biggest business icons, Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad is celebrating his 90th birthday. Here's everything you need to know about the entrepreneur.

1. He started young

Born in 1926 to a farmer in Småland -- a poor region in southern Sweden known for its entrepreneurial spirit -- Kamprad's ascent to wealth began at the tender age of 17.

Backed with modest financial support from his father, Kamprad began selling pens, picture frames, typewriters and other goods, delivering orders on his bicycle. His early success arose from squeezing his prices to undercut more established competitors.

He christened the fledgling business Ikea, stringing together his initials and those of the Elmtaryd farm where he grew up in the town of Agunnaryd.


Cottages in Småland where Kamprad grew up. Photo: Tony Töreklint/Image Bank Sweden

2. His famous flatpack furniture idea came from a colleague

In 1947 the young Kamprad started selling furniture made by local artisans, and four years later began publishing the first of his mail order catalogues -- now printed in 200 million copies and 33 languages annually.

Ikea's revolutionary self-assembly model -- which would cut transport and storage costs -- was conceived in 1956 after an employee suggested table legs be removed during freight so the package would fit into a car.

Two years later Kamprad opened Ikea's first store in Älmhult, south of his hometown. From 1970 on, Ikea conquered major markets in Europe, North America, Asia and the Middle East, thriving on the spending power of the emerging middle class in countries like post-Cold War Russia.


Ingvar Kamprad and some flat pack chairs in 2002. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

3. He hates high taxes

An admirer of the humble classes who bent over backwards to avoid paying taxes, Kamprad has been described as an obsessive penny-pincher despite being one of the world's richest people.

In 1973 he fled Sweden's higher tax structure for Denmark, before seeking even lower taxes in Switzerland. Ever frugal, Kamprad reportedly drove an ageing Volvo, and regularly used his supermarket loyalty card.

Reflecting Kamprad's dislike of taxes, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2014 cited leaked tax files from Luxembourg identifying Ikea as one of the giant multinationals fingered for corporate tax avoidance by shuffling money from high taxation countries to tax havens, minimising his company's bill.

At a time when the tax arrangements of multinational behemoths such as Amazon and Google are under the microscope, a report before the European Parliament accuses Ikea of avoiding more than a billion euros (dollars) in taxes.

Ikea insists it complies fully with national and international tax regulations.


Ingvar Kamprad sitting on an Ikea sofa in 1989. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/TT

4. Many of his clothes are second hand

In a recent Swedish documentary, Kamprad admitted that he still loves shopping at flea markets despite his fortune.

“I don't think I'm wearing anything that wasn't bought at a flea market. It means that I want to set a good example,” he told Swedish channel TV4.

“It's in the nature of Småland to be thrifty,” he said, referring to the agricultural region where he comes from.

In 2008, he told newspaper Sydsvenskan that a 22-euro bill in the Netherlands had broken his barbering budget.

“Normally, I try to get my hair cut when I'm in a developing country. Last time it was in Vietnam,” he explained at the time.


Is this a second hand hat? Photo: Thord Nilsson/TT

5. There's Nazism in his past 

Another shadow is cast over the Ikea founder by his early days in the Swedish Nazi party.

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Sweden was neutral in World War Two, and its Nazi party remained active after 1945, although the Ikea founder has said he stopped attending its meetings in 1948.


File photo of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Credit: TT

6. But Swedes still love him

From 2010 onward Kamprad progressively made way at the helm of the family company for his three sons, finally returning to live in Sweden in 2014.

He remains an icon in his home country and was recently voted Sweden's greatest entrepreneur by the readers of newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

"I saw the wretched farm workers who weren't allowed to eat inside but had to eat in the stable," Kamprad said upon receiving the prize.

"I learned one thing: if I were to succeed with my little ideas and become a businessman, I had to never abandon the poor."


Kamprad picking up his prize in 2014. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/TT/

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