|Algemeen Dagblad "The richest MISER in the world"|
Algemeen Dagblad, 17 April 2004
This article was published in the Algeemene Dagbladt, the second largest daily newspaper in the Netherlands. We include an English translation and the original article in Dutch at the bottom of the page.
The richest MISER in the world
Ingvar Kamprad, the world's richest man, watches his pennies. In Epalinges, where he lives, people refer to him as 'Uncle Scrooge' or 'The Miser'. 'Mister IKEA' has no intention to spend a single penny on junior football or the daycare centre.
On a small lane between the meadows, close to the forest edge of the Swiss village of Epalinges, lives Ingvar Kamprad, who was unofficially proclaimed the world's richest man last week. A thickset hedge of over two metres in height screens off the bungalow of Kamprad, the founder and former CEO of the Swedish furniture retail chain IKEA and still an influential man behind the scenes.
After a brief act of trespassing beyond the opening in the hedge we learn that the Kamprads are not at home: their second-hand Volvo is not in front of the house. The home and garden of the 77-year-old furniture magnate are far from spectacular. A policeman and his wife, acting as housesitters, also live on the property. They are not at home either. There is no other staff.
The garden looks just as inconspicuous as the house. A lot of grass, no frills and as far as can be seen from the road, no splashy swimming pool or stables with expensive riding horses. The average dentist, notary or bank manager in the region 'Het Gooi' [a wealthy residence area in the Netherlands] lives more luxuriously than Ingvar and Margaretha Kamprad, except for the spectacular view of Lake Geneva and - in very bright weather conditions - the Alps.
In 1976 the Kamprads settled in the hills above Lausanne in the Vaud canton, which has developed into a fiscal paradise for immensely rich business people, artists and athletes. This is because wealthy foreigners can negotiate a fixed assessment with the local tax authorities. Their income is usually estimated at five times the rental value of their house, which means that the actual assessment for multimillionaires is next to nothing.
Of course, Monaco and the Bahamas are made even more attractive to multimillionaires. "However, Switzerland is a real country with educational facilities, a police force, trains that run according to schedule and electricity that never fails", says François Micheloud. His family business in Lausanne assists newcomers in finding a house, obtaining a residence permit and making fiscally attractive arrangements. "These people leave their native countries for fiscal reasons, but they are also looking for a pleasant and safe social climate. Over here, their children are able to receive a proper education, preparing them for a university education at Oxford or Cambridge. And, fortunately, we have hardly any problems with burglary, street robbery or kidnapping."
The racing drivers Alain Prost and Ralf Schumacher were enticed to Lake Geneva, as were the country singer Shania Twain and the pop singer Phil Collins. They are poor beggars compared to the super-rich. Beer brewer Freddy Heineken, for example, used to have a cottage on Lake Geneva - in addition to his big mansion near Sankt-Moritz - where queen Beatrice would occasionally drop by for a sailing trip. Brewer's daughter Charlene de Carvalho still has a fiscally attractive residential address in Vaud and, according to the Swiss magazine Bilan, is second on the list of the richest women in the Alp country. She is closely followed by the 18-year-old heiress of Ari Onassis, Athina, who is the target of fortune hunters and paparazzi, thanks to her grandfather's billions and her single status.
The richest but at the same time most boring multimillionaires are from Sweden. In the hills above Montreux, the widow Birgit Rausing, daughter-in-law to the founder of Tetra Pak, the world's largest packaging company, is leading a secluded life. Yet her wealth and thriftiness are surpassed by those of Ingvar Kamprad, the man who has clumsy fathers throughout the world messing about with the Billy bookcase. The Swede has stayed away from the society life on the Swiss 'Costa' ever since his arrival in 1976. The archives of 24 Heures, Lausanne's biggest newspaper, is unable to provide a single photograph of Kamprad attending a premiere of cocktail party. He hardly ever gives interviews. He politely manages to keep the Swiss media out of his life.
The Swedish magazine Veckans Affaerer calculated last week that Kamprad's fortune has grown to 400 billion Swedish crowns (43.9 billion euro). Because of the decline of the US dollar, the IKEA boss is said to outrank Microsoft founder Bill Gates. IKEA immediately issued a statement that this is based on a misunderstanding. The property of the furniture company has been transferred to the INGKA Foundation, which is based in the Netherlands. But this seems to be little more than a play of words. The 77-year-old Kamprad still has a firm hold on this foundation.
But, as an old saying goes: shares are nothing but pieces of paper and cannot be eaten in the hunger winter. Apparently, the Kamprads still live up to these principles. Their modest lifestyle would be fitting for senior citizens wintering in Spanish Benidorm, living off their tiny pensions, the only difference being that Ingvar Kamprad would never waste his Swiss francs on anything as useless as bingo.
In Epalinges the world's richest couple are not afraid to go bargain-hunting in the local Pickpay, a supermarket engaged in price-fighting, much like [the Dutch] Bas van der Heijden and Dirk van den Broek supermarkets. In the small shopping centre of Epalinges, the Swedish couple show up regularly to do their shopping.
"Très sympa", is what first-class butcher Perroud has to say about the old man from Sweden, in other words, "very sympathetic". "These people are not stuck up about anything. They are friendly and polite. Only recently, a shelf filler of the Migros supermarket told me that mister Kamprad had helped her to fill a shelf. But we don't see much of him in the village. I think that only the shopkeepers will recognize him. The other villagers don't know who he is."
Although Kamprad has been living at Epalinges for 28 years, he might benefit greatly from an integration course for newcomers. He has a poor command of the French language and his contacts with the local inhabitants are kept to a minimum. He does not take part in the social life of the community. This to the annoyance of Yvan Tardy, who is the 'syndic' - Swiss French for mayor - of Epalinges and happens to live on the same lane as Kamprad. The presence of the immensely rich Swede has not been able to prevent this rural municipality from falling into debt because of the building of new roads and facilities.
This is something Tardy obviously finds very frustrating. "Kamprad has only very little taxes to pay. Unfortunately he has never done anything for our village. Not a single contribution to the facilities for the poor, the elderly or the young people. He cannot be persuaded to sponsor a sports club. If clubs are organizing a fancy fair or lottery, they don't have to turn to him for help. Het does his shopping in the village, but apart from that, he does not spend any money within our community. Not even in the restaurant, because he never eats out. I'm sorry, sir, but I can only call him The Miser."
Other celebrities are behaving in a more social manner, according to Tardy. "Racing driver Michael Schumacher lives a few villages from here. It goes without saying that he also takes advantage of the low taxes. But he offers something in return. He has donated a playground to the village and also sponsors a number of sports teams in the region. Asher Edelmann, the rich stock market guru from New York, lives at Epalinges and has founded an art museum in this region. He dedicates himself to culture and has requested Swiss citizenship. And what does Kamprad do? He has on a single occasion bought shirts for the basketball team in which one of his sons was playing."
The magazine Bilan once described Kamprad as 'Uncle Scrooge' because of his stinginess. Nevertheless, the journalists managed to dig up a few examples of the man's generosity. Like Scrooge in 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens, Kamprad is said to be overcome by a surge of generosity on behalf of his fellow human beings around Christmas time. According to Bilan, Kamprad has made it a habit to present the neighbourhood with Swedish spiced-wine punch on Christmas eve. Neither the mayor nor Kamprad's near-neighbour Tardy can confirm the story. "Apparently he has poured some wine on one or two occasions. But only to his next-door neighbours."
Rumour also has it that Kamprad has aided a refugee family with furniture from the IKEA stocks. Tardy: "If this has really happened, it definitely was not in Epalinges. The local daycare centre recently needed new chairs. They went to Kamprad and asked him if they could get a discount at IKEA. That was completely out of the question."
Who is Ingvar Kamprad?
Ingvar Kamprad, the world's new richest man, was born in 1926 on the Elmtaryd farm in the village of Agunnaryd in a remote, poverty-stricken corner of Sweden. He used the first letters of his name and place of birth when he started the IKEA company in 1943.
The 17-year-old Kamprad was peddling pens, photo frames, watches, jewellery and nylon stockings. After two years he started a mail order company specializing in furniture. The 'golden idea' for IKEA came in the nineteen-fifties with the introduction of the do-it-yourself kit, which enabled customers to get their furniture from the store and put it together at home. In 1973, IKEA opened its first home store outside of Scandinavia. Customers flooded into the stores thanks to the success formula of tasteful design at a reasonable price. The company owns 186 stores in 36 countries, including the US, China and Russia. One in ten European children are conceived in an IKEA bed. Kamprad and his second wife Margaretha moved to Switzerland in 1976. They have three grown-up sons, who, after a long training period, are being prepared to take over from their father. In 1986 Ingvar Kamprad stepped down as CEO to be replaced by Anders Moberg, the current Ahold top executive. However, behind the scenes 'Mister IKEA' remains closely involved with all company affairs.
In recent years, Kamprad has received a negative press because of two 'incidents'. A Swedish newspaper revealed his involvement with a pro-Nazi movement in the nineteen-forties. After this 'youthful sin' became known, the IKEA chief voluntarily confessed an indiscretion from the nineteen-seventies. During his many business trips to Poland, he hit the vodka bottle much too often. He has been fighting a fierce battle against his addiction to alcohol ever since.
© Algemeen Dagblad /ST
You can also read the Dutch version.
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