cover image Leading by Design: The Ikea Story

Leading by Design: The Ikea Story

Bertil Torekull. HarperCollins Publishers, $26 (244pp) ISBN 978-0-06-662038-1

Like IKEA's mass market-priced beds and dressers, this authorized history of the Swedish furniture company is accessible. Unfortunately, Torekull, a prominent Swedish financial journalist, is all too willing to downplay messy details as he charts the company's evolution from founder Ingvar Kamprad's first sales of cheap fountain pens in 1943 to the present-day behemoth, which boasts 150 stores in 30 countries on four continents with 41,000 employees. Emerging from the interviews with Kamprad and others is a flattering portrait of an entrepreneur with drive and vision who has been responsive to every opportunity to reduce costs. In a demonstration of quick reflexes in the face of changing market conditions, Kamprad sought out sources in Poland and other Eastern European countries as soon as local Swedish suppliers became too expensive. Over time, Kamprad's bold responses to challenges have undeniably been successful. Yet Torekull indicates that IKEA's future may not be as rosy as its past: Kamprad's sons tend to sit in silent obedience when their father is in the room, and new IKEA projects still invariably originate with Kamprad himself. The iron fist of the founder is also evident in the wall of disingenuousness that Torekull confronted in his attempts to investigate Kamprad's past associations with Hitler supporters and Swedish neo-Fascist political groups. Readers might suspect that Torekull would have relished writing an unauthorized history of IKEA. Confronted with the hagiographical excesses here, they will surely wish he had. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Sept.)