Man who built Ikea into world's largest furniture retailer has died

Ingvar Kamprad

Swede Ingvar Kamprad, the billionaire founder of the IKEA retail empire whose cheap, functional furniture is a feature of homes around the world, has died at the age of 91.

In a statement on Sunday, Ikea said that Mr Kamprad had "peacefully passed away at his home".

"Born in Småland in 1926, Kamprad was 5 when he contracted with an aunt who lived in Stockholm to buy boxes of matches in bulk, selling them locally at a huge profit, according to The New Yorker".

After deciding to focus on the home furniture business, Kamprad built the company into a global juggernaut that kept to his philosophy of keeping prices low by requiring customers to assemble the easily constructed pieces on their own.

The company's big break came in 1956 with the introduction of flat-pack furniture, Reuters reported.

"Now I have told all I can", he said at a book release ceremony at an IKEA store in suburban Stockholm.

His decision to live overseas, mainly in Switzerland, to avoid Sweden's high income taxes was also widely criticised.

The Ikea name comes from Kamprad's initials, as well as the first letters of the farm he grew up on, Elmtaryd, and the nearby village Agunnaryd. 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 Sweden was neutral during the war, its Nazi party remained active after the war. Backed with modest financial support from his father, Kamprad began selling pens, picture frames, typewriters and other goods, delivering orders on his bicycle.

Ingvar Kamprad posing for a photo with an Ikea staffer.

First distributed in 1951, Ikea now sends 250 million copies of its catalogue to more than 50 markets in 30 languages, putting it alongside the Bible as one of the world's most popular books.

Ikea's revolutionary self-assembly model was conceived in 1956 after an employee suggested table legs be removed so the package would fit into a vehicle. It was the start of what became IKEA, now with 403 stores across the globe, 190,000 employees and $47 billion in annual sales.

Despite his wealth, Kamprad prided himself on being frugal, driving an old vehicle and encouraging staff to write on both sides of a sheet of paper to avoid waste. In an interview with Swedish television channel TV4, given in the year 2016 he said that it is in the nature of Småland to be thrifty. This was part of moves to hand responsibilities over to one of his sons.

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