Ingvar Kamprad, who founded Sweden’s IKEA furniture brand and transformed it into a worldwide business empire, has died at the age of 91.
Kamprad died Saturday of pneumonia in the southern Swedish region of Smaland where he grew up on a farm, and with some modest financial help from his father, starting selling pens, picture frames, typewriters and other goods. It was the start of what became IKEA, now with 403 stores across the globe, 190,000 employees and $47 billion in annual sales.
His brand became synonymous with the simplicity of Scandinavian design, modest pricing, flat-pack boxing and do-it-yourself assembly for consumers. It turned Kamprad into an entrepreneur with a reported net worth of $46 billion. The company name was an acronym of his initials, the name of his farm, Elmtaryd, and his town of origin, Agunnaryd.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said Kamprad “was a unique entrepreneur who had a big impact on Swedish business and who made home design a possibility for the many, not just the few.” King Carl XVI Gustaf called Kamprad a “true entrepreneur” who “brought Sweden out to the world.”
Kamprad’s life was not without controversy, however.
He faced sharp criticism for his ties to the Nazi youth movement in the 1940s. While Sweden was neutral during the war, its Nazi party remained active after the war. Kamprad said he stopped attending its meetings in 1948, later attributing his involvement to the “folly of youth,” and calling it “the greatest mistake of my life.”
While he eventually returned to Sweden, Kamprad fled his homeland’s high-tax structure for Denmark in 1973 and later moved to Switzerland in search of even lower taxes.
The European Commission last year launched an investigation into ways IKEA allegedly used a Dutch subsidiary to avoid taxes, with the Green Party contending the company avoided $1.2 billion in European Union taxes between 2009 and 2014. The Consortium of Investigative Journalists identified IKEA in 2014 as one of the giant multinationals that moved money to tax havens to avoid taxes.
Kamprad was known for his frugality, buying his clothes at thrift shops, driving an aging Volvo and bringing his lunch to work.