IKEA’s new chairman likes PAX wardrobes, and that’s about all we know

June 5, 2013
June 5, 2013

The man who got millions of customers to assemble the stylishly simple and cheap furniture of IKEA is handing over the baton, or the Billy bookcase, to a new generation. IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, 87, is stepping down from the board of Inter IKEA Holding SA, the company that controls the Inter IKEA Group. His youngest son, 43-year-old Mathias Kamprad, was named chairman of the holding company, replacing Per Ludvigsson.

“Mathias is well prepared for his new assignment,” the eldest Kamprad, 87, said in a statement.  “I see this as a good time for me to leave the board of Inter IKEA Group. By that we are also taking another step in the generation shift that has been ongoing for some years.”

Little is known about Mathias and his two older brothers, who also have leadership roles at IKEA. None of them has a day-to-day operational role; they instead work on the overall vision and long-term strategy for IKEA. It’s not clear why Mathias was the one named chairman, but he worked closely with his father, having spent two years as his assistant. More recently, he has focused on the performance of IKEA franchises, according to a rare interview (pdf) in the IKEA employee magazine, Readme (pdf).

Mathias told the publication about the burden he and his brothers face of building upon the success of their father, who began selling matches when he was five years old and moved on to peddling flower seeds and Christmas decorations.  Mathias said his favorite IKEA product is the PAX wardrobe series, a typically simple looking box with no knobs or handles on the door. “A good, sturdy frame with doors that cater for all tastes and interior fittings for every possible need,” Mathias said of the product.

The Kamprad family is one of the wealthiest in the world, but also one of the most private. The Kamprads are also known for largely shunning material goods, with the eldest Kamprad often traveling in economy class and eating at the local IKEA cafe. Kamprad’s Testament of a Furniture Dealer (pdf), which was published in 1976, lays out his frugal philosophy in nine points, including “reaching good results with small means” and “simplicity is a virtue.” In 1994, Kamprad said his involvement in a Swedish fascist movement in his youth was the greatest mistake of his life, though a more recent book alleged that his ties to Nazism went deeper than he had admitted.

IKEA itself is run in a complicated structure that reduces its tax burden and helps prevent takeovers of the firm. The holding company is owned by the Stichting Ingka Foundation, a Netherlands-based charity set up by Kamprad devoted to “innovation in the field of architectural and interior design.” What the foundation is worth is hard to judge, since it depends on estimating IKEA’s market value based on its reported earnings, but when The Economist did such an estimate in 2006, it found that it was the richest charity in the world, comfortably surpassing the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In the last fiscal year, the IKEA group saw a sales increase of 9.5% and its net profit jump by 8% to $4.2 billion. It will be up to the new chairman to guide IKEA’s future growth, including turning Chinese browsers into buyers. IKEA has also had to deal with a publicity headache earlier this year when horse meat was found in its Swedish meatballs. But Mathias and his brothers can still rely on dad, who while leaving the Inter IKEA board will remain on the board of the Ingka foundation.

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