Ingvar Kamprad, the reclusive billionaire who founded Ikea, grew up selling pencils in Swedish villages and was the 8th-richest person in the world by the time he died. Here's how he built a fortune off furniture.

kamprads brothers ikea 2x1

Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images; Ikano Group; Ruobing Su/Business Insider

Advertisement

Ikea is the largest furniture retailer in the world, but most of its customers probably couldn't name its founder.

Ingvar Kamprad, the company's reclusive and frugal founder who died in January 2018 at age 91, started Ikea in 1943 when he was just 17 years old. Over the years, he built it into a multibillion-dollar global company that now has 434 stores and employs more than 208,000 people worldwide.
Advertisement
Kamprad's three sons, Peter, Jonas, and Mathias Kamprad, all have board member roles within the group of companies that make up Ikea, an Ikea spokesperson confirmed to Business Insider.

The three Kamprad brothers own Ikano Group, a group of companies involved in areas including real estate, banking, insurance, and retail that was once part of Ikea but later became an independent company. Peter Kamprad is the chairman of the board and Jonas and Mathias are also board members.

At the time of his death, Ingvar Kamprad was ranked No. 8 on Bloomberg's Billionaires Index thanks to his control of a $58.7 billion Ikea fortune. His personal assets were confirmed at about $130 million at the time of his death, a spokesperson for Inter IKEA Group, which controls the intellectual property of Ikea, told Business Insider.
Advertisement

Take a look at the Swedish family behind the world's largest furniture retailer.

{{}}

Ikea is the world's largest furniture retailer, according to Forbes.

Ikea is the world's largest furniture retailer, according to Forbes.

In 2018, the Swedish-founded company that's now headquartered in the Netherlands brought in about $43 billion in revenue.

Ikea employs more than 208,000 worldwide and operates 434 stores; 19 new stores opened in 2018 alone.

Ikea was founded in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad, a reclusive Swedish billionaire who died in January 2018.

Ikea was founded in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad, a reclusive Swedish billionaire who died in January 2018.

At the time of his death, Kamprad was ranked No. 8 on Bloomberg's Billionaires Index thanks to his control of a $58.7 billion Ikea fortune.

His personal assets were confirmed at about $130 million at the time of his death, a spokesperson for Inter IKEA Group, which controls the intellectual property of Ikea, told Business Insider.

Advertisement

Kamprad grew up on a farm in southern Sweden.

Kamprad grew up on a farm in southern Sweden.

His family was poor, and Kamprad made extra money selling matches and pencils in villages, The New York Times reported.

Kamprad was only 17 years old when he started what would become the world's largest furniture retailer.

Kamprad was only 17 years old when he started what would become the world's largest furniture retailer.

In 1943, he started out selling things like picture frames, watches, pens, and wallets, and moved into mail-order furniture in 1948. The first Ikea store opened in Älmhult, Sweden, in 1958.

The name Ikea is an acronym for the initials of Kamprad's first and last names combined with the initials for the name of the family farm where he was born (Elmtaryd) and the nearest village (Agunnaryd).

Advertisement

As a young man, Kamprad had ties to pro-Nazi groups.

As a young man, Kamprad had ties to pro-Nazi groups.

Kamprad became part of Sweden's fascist movement around the same time he started Ikea, The Washington Post reported. He attended meetings of pro-Nazi extremist groups and was reportedly part of the Swedish version of the Hitler Youth.

He was no longer part of such groups by his mid-20s and later apologized for his involvement, according to the Post.

An Ikea spokesperson told Business Insider that Kamprad described his involvement in the groups as "his biggest mistake and came to regret it for the rest of his days. He repeatedly apologized for it and devoted the remainder of his life to the humanistic values that Ikea is based on."

Over the years, Kamprad grew Ikea into a multibillion-dollar business with hundreds of stores across the world.

Over the years, Kamprad grew Ikea into a multibillion-dollar business with hundreds of stores across the world.

The company has been criticized for its complex corporate organizational structure.

In 1973, Kamprad moved Ikea's headquarters from Sweden to Copenhagen, Denmark, to avoid unfavorable business taxes for the fast-growing company.

Kamprad stepped down as CEO in 1986 at age 60, at which time Ikea was divided into three separate and independent companies: Inter Ikea Group, Ingka Group, and Ikano Group.

Inter Ikea Group controls the intellectual property of the Ikea brand and is where the Ikea franchisor sits. Ingka Group is one of Ikea's 12 franchisees and owns Ikea Retail, which operates 367 of Ikea's 434 stores.

Ikano Group, which has interests in banking, insurance, real estate, and more, became an independent company in 1988 and is now owned by Kamprad's three sons. It operates eight Ikea stores in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and will open one store in Mexico and one in the Philippines in 2020, a spokesperson for the brand told Business Insider.

In the late 1980s, the Interogo Foundation was established in Liechtenstein to become the ultimate owner of the Inter Ikea Group. Kamprad sat on the supervisory council of the foundation until his resignation in 2013, at which point he gave up the rest of his formal power over Ikea, according to the brand.

Advertisement

Despite his wildly successful company, Kamprad lived a relatively frugal lifestyle.

Despite his wildly successful company, Kamprad lived a relatively frugal lifestyle.

"He lived in Switzerland to avoid Sweden's high taxes, drove an old Volvo, flew only economy class, stayed in budget hotels, ate cheap meals, shopped for bargains and insisted that his home was modest, that he had no real fortune and that Ikea was held by a charitable trust," Robert D. McFadden wrote for The New York Times.

According to the BBC, Kamprad told a local Swedish television channel in 2016 that it was "in the nature of Smaland to be thrifty ... If you look at me now, I don't think I'm wearing anything that wasn't bought at a flea market."

His home in Switzerland, a single-story ranch villa overlooking Lake Geneva, was relatively modest for a multibillionaire.

His home in Switzerland, a single-story ranch villa overlooking Lake Geneva, was relatively modest for a multibillionaire.

Kamprad reportedly lived in the Swiss village of Epalinges from the 1970s until 2014.

After he moved back to Sweden, Kamprad's ranch-style villa house and property were put up for sale for about $4.6 million, but the house itself was basically worthless, The Local Sweden reported in 2015.

The home was listed on real estate websites with a note that read, "Current house to demolish," according to The Local.

Advertisement

The Swedish billionaire was married twice and had four children.

The Swedish billionaire was married twice and had four children.

His first marriage was in 1950 to Kerstin Wadling, with whom he adopted a daughter, Annika.

Kamprad married Margaretha Sennert in 1963 and the couple had three sons. His wife died in 2011.

Upon his death in 2018, Kamprad left roughly $300,000 to his daughter, Annika, while leaving the bulk of Ikea to his three sons. Annika said at the time that she was "happy with the arrangement."

Kamprad's three sons, Jonas, Peter, and Mathias, are now in their early and mid 50s.

Kamprad's three sons, Jonas, Peter, and Mathias, are now in their early and mid 50s.

The three Kamprad brothers are media shy and have rarely given interviews, according to The Local Sweden.

In a press statement following their father's death, the brothers pledged to keep the company true to their father's vision.

"We, the sons, have promised him to sustain his legacy and do what we can to ensure the core values and the unique IKEA concept are carried on into the future," they wrote.

The Kamprad brothers own Ikano Group, the $9.1 billion company that was created to manage Ikea's real estate and financial service businesses, but became an independent entity in 1988.

Advertisement

Ingvar's oldest son, Peter Kamprad, is the chairman of Ikano Group.

Ingvar's oldest son, Peter Kamprad, is the chairman of Ikano Group.

Ikano Group is a franchisee of Inter Ikea Group, operating eight Ikea stores in Asia, as well as shopping centers anchored by Ikea. The group also provides advice on "sustainable risk solutions" for the Ikea franchise concept, according to its website.

Peter, who lives in Belgium, spent 12 years running Ikea operations in Belgium and also once worked for H&M, another major Swedish retailer, a spokesperson for the Kamprad brothers confirmed to Business Insider.

Jonas Kamprad is also a board member at Ikano Group.

Jonas Kamprad is also a board member at Ikano Group.

In addition to that, Jonas sits on the supervisory board of the holding company that owns the Ingka Group, the largest Ikea franchisee, as well as the board of Stichting Ingka Foundation, the ultimate owner of the Ingka Group, the Kamprad brothers' spokesperson told Business Insider.

Jonas, who lives in London, studied industrial design and was previously involved with Habitat, which was owned by the Ikano Group, but was sold in 2009, the Kamprads' publicist told Business Insider.

Advertisement

In addition to sitting on the board of Ikano Group like his brothers, the youngest Kamprad brother, Mathias, serves on the supervisory board of Inter Ikea Group, which operates most Ikea stores.

In addition to sitting on the board of Ikano Group like his brothers, the youngest Kamprad brother, Mathias, serves on the supervisory board of Inter Ikea Group, which operates most Ikea stores.

At one point, Mathias, who also lives in London, worked as an assistant to his father, Ingvar, according to Forbes.

"All three brothers spent time with Ingvar to learn and be inspired – Ingvar was a fantastic source of knowledge and inspiration," the brothers' publicist told Business Insider.

Each Kamprad brother has a net worth of about $1 billion, according to Forbes.