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Documentary reveals Ikea founder’s frugality

By Peter Holley, The Washington Post
Published: March 12, 2016, 6:06am

With a net worth of more than $40 billion, Ingvar Kamprad, founder of the furniture chain Ikea, is among the richest people in the world.

He is also, it appears, among its most frugal.

This week, the eccentric billionaire — No. 9 in last year’s Bloomberg Billionaire’s List — revealed in a documentary broadcast this week on Swedish television that he buys his clothes at flea markets to save money, according to Agence France Presse.

“I don’t think I’m wearing anything that wasn’t bought at a flea market,” he told Swedish channel TV4, according to business daily Dagens Industri, which previewed the film. “It means that I want to set a good example.”

This is not the first time the 89-year-old has revealed his penchant for extreme penny-pinching. In 2008, he told Swedens Sydsvenskan newspaper that he saves money by getting his hair cut during trips overseas to poorer countries, according to the Telegraph.

“Normally, I try to get my haircut when I’m in a developing country,” he said. “Last time it was in Vietnam.”

The website Listverse ranks Kamprad No. 2 on it’s list of the “10 most eccentric millionaires and billionaires.”

Among the reasons for his ranking, the website writes, is that he “reportedly drives a 20-year-old Volvo, recycles tea bags, and steals salt and pepper packets from restaurants.”

“His home is furnished with Ikea furniture he assembled personally, he uses public transportation, and his modest home would look at home in any suburban neighborhood,” Listserve adds.

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In the documentary, AFP reported, Kamprad attributed his spending habits to his birthplace.

“It’s in the nature of Smaland to be thrifty,” he said, referring to Sweden’s southern agricultural region where he grew up.

But Malcolm Gladwell, in his 2013 book “David and Goliath,” argues that Kamprad’s unusual spending habits are closely linked to another personality trait that has factored heavily into helping him turn Ikea into one of the world’s top brand names.

As Gladwell writes:

“But crucially, innovators need to be disagreeable … They are people willing to take social risks — to do things that others might disapprove of.

“That is not easy. Society frowns on disagreeableness. As human beings we are hard-wired to seek the approval of those around us. Yet a radical and transformative thought goes nowhere without the willingness to challenge convention.”

Speaking about Kamprad at the World Business Forum in New York in 2014, Gladwell offered the crowd an anecdote to highlight how the businessman’s rebellious, uncaring style had benefited him, according to Business Insider.

Unable to manufacture his product in Sweden in the late 1950s, Kamprad made the unlikely decision to move his manufacturing operation to Poland. For many in his home country, the move was viewed as unconscionable.

“1961. Cold War. Tension,” Gladwell said, according to Business Insider. “At the height of hostilities between East and West, he decides to move from Sweden to Poland.”

“That’s like Wal-Mart moving to North Korea,” Gladwell added. “People called him a traitor.”