The founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, passed away on Saturday at the age of 91.
The company released a statement of Kamprad’s death on Sunday morning. His passing was reportedly peaceful, in his home in Småland, Sweden. According to the company, Kamprad suffered from a short illness and ended his life surrounded by family and loved ones.
Kamprad founded his revolutionary furniture company in 1943, at the age of 17 according to a report by The New York Times. He devised the name by combining his initials with those of the farm he grew up on — Elmtaryd — and the village it was located in: Agunnaryd. What began as a mail order home goods business grew into one of the biggest corporate empires in human history.
Today, IKEA has more than 350 stores across 29 countries. Their success is generally attributed to the practices and leadership of Kamprad himself, who preached a lifestyle of strict frugality. That penny-pinching mindset formed the basis for everything customers love about IKEA today — their furniture is assembled at home and unfinished on the downward facing sides because it saves the company money.
Ironically, that commitment to lowering overhead made Kamprad one of the richest men of all time. On the day of his death, the Bloomberg Billionaire Index ranked him as the eighth richest person in the world, with a total estimated worth of $58.7 billion.
There was a dark side to Kamprad’s past, as well. In 1994, a Stockholm-based newspaper called Expressen linked him to Per Engdahl, a Swedish fascist leader who had recently died at the time. It was discovered that Kamprad had joined Engdahl’s movement in 1942, attending meetings, raising funds, and even helping to recruit new members.
The movement Kamprad was a part of was a unique branch of far-right politics during World War II. Engdahl preached racial nationalism and anti-Semitism, though he didn’t outright support Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini. He saluted both of their efforts, but described his movement as uniquely Swedish. Historians attribute Engdahl’s years of power to his cult of personality, as he was a charismatic leader.
Even after World War II, Kamprad remained faithful to Engdahl. A letter was discovered as late as 1950 in which Kamprad wrote to Engdahl to say he was proud of what they had done.
In 1994, when the connection was uncovered, Kamprad confessed shame for his involvement in the movement. He addressed his employees, calling those early political activities “a part of my life which I bitterly regret,” and “the most stupid mistake of my life.”
Kamprad is survived by four children. His three biological sons, Peter, Jonas and Mathias will receive his substantial shares in his company, while his adopted daughter, Annika, will receive about $300,000 according to Swedish newspaper Nordstjernan.