IKEA Founder Explains Himself to 25,000 Employees
STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ The founder of IKEA has sent a letter to 25,000 employees worldwide explaining his past involvement with pro-Nazi groups as a mistake of misguided youth, the big home furnishing chain says.
Ingvar Kamprad, 68, was trying to head off any fallout from reports this week by the Stockholm daily Expressen. The paper uncovered Kamprad’s name in the archives of a Swedish pro-Nazi activist who died recently.
The archives showed Kamprad had attended a number of meetings and had befriended a leading extremist, Per Engdahl, starting in 1945 and extending into the 1950s.
The newspaper printed more details Tuesday, including the text of a 1950 note from Kamprad to the Engdahl in which Kamprad said he was ″proud″ to be involved with the groups.
Kamprad admitted his involvement in a handwritten statement sent Monday to 125 IKEA stores employing 25,000 people around the world, said his assistant, Staffan Jeppsson.
In the note, Kamprad called his activities ″a part of my life which I bitterly regret.″
He said he severed the contacts in the 1950s when he ″realized this was a mistake.″ Kamprad denied he ever was a formal member of the rightist groups and said he was drawn to Engdahl’s vision of a non-communist, socialist Europe.
″The contact with with Engdahl lasted some time into the 1950s, but became more and more one-sided,″ Kamprad wrote. ″However, I was not brave enough to put my foot down.″
″You have been young yourself,″ he continued in the note to employees. ″Perhaps something happened during your own youth which you now, a long time afterwards, think was silly. In that case it will be easier for you to understand me.″
At least one major newspaper came to the defense of the IKEA executive, who is admired by many Swedes for his remarkable business success. The paper Vestmanlands Lans Tidning criticized Expressen for picking on Kamprad when ″it would make more sense to take aim at those who have not woken up and changed their minds.″
Kamprad opened his first store in 1958, selling disassembled, good-quality, inexpensive furniture in a big warehouse-style stores. The company has grown worldwide and Kamprad is listed as one of Sweden’s richest men.
IKEA stores operate in 26 countries, including 13 in the United States, where they have proven immensely popular with young families. The U.S. outlets provide supervised child care and sell everything from pre-fab bunkbed kits and dining sets to Swedish meatballs in their customer cafeterias.
The company announced this year that it plans to open up to five new stores in China within a few years, although the locations have not been decided.
The chain, which is privately owned and has not disclosed its earnings, requires all employees to take its ″IKEA Way″ course that incorporates Kamprad’s own teachings with special training in the store’s philosophy of customer service, Jeppsson said.