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Billionaire proud to be frugal at 80

IKEA founder Kamprad, the 4th richest man in the world, drives a 15-year-old car and always flies economy class.
None | By Reuters, Geneva
UPDATED ON MAR 26, 2006 09:57 PM IST

IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, ranked 4th richest man in the world, drives a 15-year-old car and always flies economy class, in part to inspire his 90,000 employees worldwide to see the virtue of frugality.

The billionaire Swede, who turns 80 on March 30, explained his legendary habits during a rare television interview in Switzerland, his adoptive home for nearly 30 years.

His fortune was recently estimated at $28 billion by Forbes magazine -- trailing only Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, US investor Warren Buffett and Mexican industrialist Carlos Slim.

"People say I am cheap and I don't mind if they do. But I am very proud to follow the rules of our company," Kamprad told French-language Swiss Broadcasting Corporation.

Asked to confirm he drove an old Volvo, he said: "She is nearly new, just 15 years old, or something like that."

Interviewer Darius Rochebin teased that Ikea employees were always told to write on both sides of the paper.

"Why not? If there is such a thing as good leadership, it is to give a good example. I have to do so for all the Ikea employees," Kamprad retorted.

"Everything we earn we need as a reserve. We have to still develop the IKEA group. We need many billions of Swiss francs (dollars) to take on China or Russia," he added.

Ikea is the world's biggest furniture retailer, with 202 stores in 32 countries.

Known for its inexpensive self-assembly furniture, the family-owned business claims its hefty catalogue is the most widely read publication after the Bible.

Small-town Swede

After flirting with neo-Nazism after World War Two -- for which he has apologised -- the small-town Swede set up shop in his garden shed, selling watches, pens and Christmas cards.

"I bought seeds for the garden and had great success with it, going around to all the houses in my village. After that year I could buy myself my first bicycle," Kamprad recalled.

When Sweden's Social Democrat government launched the "Million Homes Project" in the 1950s, he saw an opportunity and got into the furniture business.

He stumbled upon the "flat-pack" idea in 1956 when an employee took the legs off a table to fit it into a customer's car. It saves a fortune in transport, storage and sales space.

"Our idea is to serve everybody, including people with little money. We have to keep costs down," he said.

His home in the Swiss village of Epalinges near Lausanne above scenic Lake Geneva is mainly decorated with Ikea furniture, apart from a few family pieces.

In keeping with Swedish tradition, Kamprad said he prepares and brings glogg, or hot wine, to "good neighbours" at Christmas along with his three sons.

Last week he made a donation of 500,000 swiss francs ($379,900) to the Lausanne cantonal art school, where his son studied.

"I'm not afraid of turning 80 and I have lots of things to do. I don't have time for dying," Kamprad said.

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