Nederland speelt een sleutelrol voor het concern met een wereldwijde omzet van €38 miljard.
Dat Ingvar Kamprad, de vorige week op 91-jarige leeftijd overleden oprichter van Ikea, van het zuinige type was en een moeizame relatie had met de belastingdienst schreven we eerder al. Dat Ikea uiteindelijk eigendom is van een in Nederland, Luxemburg en Liechtenstein gesponnen spinnenweb van stichtingen is uiteraard niet bedoeld om belasting te ontwijken maar om het concern binnen de familie te houden.
De Financial Times maakte echter een longread die dieper in gaat op de toekomst van de Zweedse meubelmoloch en welke sleutelrol Nederland daarin speelt. Zo is het concern opgeknipt in een stichting die de winkels exploiteert (Ikea Group, gevestigd in Leiden) en een stichting die de merkrechten en het concept beheerd (Inter Ikea, gevestigd in Delft).
Maar naast de mazen in de Nederlandse belastingwet waar Ikea dankbaar gebruik van maakt is de winkel in Delft ook nog eens een soort blauwdruk voor alle vestigingen wereldwijd en bekleedt een Nederlander de hoogste financiële functie.
Lees daarom dit verhaal uit de zalmroze zakenkrant over het oranje tintje van het blauw-gele warenhuis.
What will Ikea build next?
Richard Milne February 1, 2018 32
Torbjorn Loof had spent days preparing his presentation for Ikea’s annual preview of new products. Back in the 1990s, product managers like himself would show off the latest ideas for flat-pack furniture and other accessories to Ingvar Kamprad, the company’s legendary founder. But after just two minutes of the full-day meeting, Kamprad piped up. “I’m sorry to interrupt you but I want to change the agenda completely,” he told Loof and others present. “I only want to talk about all the mistakes you have made — it’s only through mistakes that you learn.” Loof, now chief executive of Inter Ikea, an increasingly important part of the empire built around the world’s largest furniture retailer, is relating his favourite anecdote about Kamprad, who died last weekend at the age of 91. There are many stories about Kamprad’s thrifty nature, whether buying all his clothes from flea markets or cutting out coupons from in-flight magazines to save a few euros. Loof, however, remembers the shock of a founder who dared his employees to make mistakes. “He wanted to know who had made the biggest mistakes in Ikea. Sometimes there were prizes for those who had made the biggest. Just imagine that,” he says. Ingvar Kamprad in 1977 © IBL/REX/Shutterstock One mistake Kamprad certainly did not make was starting Ikea in 1943 as a 17-year-old. He began the business in Smaland, a socially conservative, Bible-belt area of rural southern Sweden, selling pencils and postcards, using first his bicycle and then local milk trucks for delivery. Today, Ikea makes €38bn a year in revenues from 411 stores in 49 countries and has become a byword for affordable design as well as occasionally impenetrable building instructions. Under Kamprad, one of the world’s most successful postwar entrepreneurs, the company changed the way we shop, keeping costs down by forcing customers to drive to its stores, pick the furniture off the shelves themselves and then construct it using its ubiquitous Allen keys. In some years, the catalogue was reportedly the most printed book after the Bible. Kamprad had long planned for his own death. He wrote a pamphlet called The Testament of a Furniture Dealer more than four decades ago and filled it with aphorisms such as “Only while sleeping one makes no mistakes” and “Most things still remain to be done. A glorious future!” He was wary of banks and the stock market, devising a fiendishly complex network of companies to try to ensure Ikea could live on after him. “Nobody can guarantee a company or a concept an eternal life, but no one can accuse me for not having tried,” he once said. But Kamprad’s death comes at an awkward time for Ikea. Loof, 52, a Swede with a salt-and-pepper beard framing a frequent smile, suddenly became serious in an interview with the FT shortly before the founder’s death. “We have been successful on a long journey. But it is clear that one era is ending and another beginning.” A still life of Ikea products. Photograph by John Gribben, assisted by Kei Yoshino © John Gribben/ Kiosk Digitalisation and urbanisation are combining to push young people away from Ikea stores, often towards online rivals. Loof talks of having to “create our own crisis” to shake the company out of its complacency. “Is Amazon sometimes cheaper? Yes. Does that ring alarm bells? Yes,” he says. Meanwhile, a tax investigation by the European Commission is increasing scrutiny of Ikea’s convoluted structure. The company now has to face these new challenges without its charismatic founder, who had withdrawn gradually from the business over the past few decades. Can Ikea flourish without him or will it flounder, held back by past glories? “Ingvar was Ingvar,” says one of his closest former colleagues. “For many people he was the role model, the God. Nobody will be able to replace him.” A small shop in the centre of Stockholm is a sign of the challenges and opportunities Ikea faces. Next to the trendy Mood shopping mall sits a more modest store that contains only Ikea kitchens. This pop-up shop has been so successful that it will stay open for more than a year longer than the six-month run initially proposed. Shoppers can book a 90-minute consultation to plan their dream kitchen. “For me, it’s a test lab to penetrating city centres,” says Jesper Brodin, chief executive of Ikea Group, who has spiky, greying hair and is dressed in the standard company garb of shirt and jumper. “About 70 per cent of the people shopping there wouldn’t go to a [traditional Ikea] store.” The Billy bookcase, one of Ikea’s most successful products, was designed in 1979. By 2009, more than 41 million had been sold. Photograph by John Gribben, assisted by Kei Yoshino © John Gribben/ Kiosk After five decades of relying on the same business model of getting customers to drive themselves to huge, out-of-town stores, Ikea is trying out various new formats. A similar pop-up shop, this time for bedrooms, has opened in Madrid, while Ikea has opened a city-centre store of its whole range in the Altona district of Hamburg. Vienna, Copenhagen and London’s Greenwich will soon get similar shops. Loof says: “One of the barriers to shop at Ikea is the hassle to get to the store. In London, it could take you one-and-a-half hours. So we have to get closer to the customer. Ikea’s business model was born from the car revolution. Now young people don’t even have driving licences.” Online shopping is potentially an even greater threat. Kamprad came up with the infamous labyrinthine store layout to ensure that shoppers made a maximum of impulse purchases in its market hall, full of higher-margin items such as rugs and lamps. Ikea has begun selling online but having workers select the furniture and then deliver it risks undermining the very model that has kept the company’s costs low. Ingvar was Ingvar. For many people he was the role model, the God. Nobody will be able to replace him A close former colleague of Ikea’s founder Ingvar Kamprad Asked about digital advances, Brodin pointedly says that Ikea has “a fairly analogue concept from a great entrepreneur from the 1900s”. Change is in the air, however. Inter Ikea will soon experiment with selling its wares on third-party websites — along the lines of Amazon or Alibaba. Ikea has also developed a new ecommerce system in the UK, which it is about to roll out across the company. “We are super-good in stores. We have a good website. But we haven’t integrated it. We haven’t moved knowledge from the stores to the web,” says Loof. Kamprad’s thriftiness may have had a downside. Steen Kanter, chief executive of consultants Kanter International and a former Ikea manager, says the group historically failed to invest enough in systems because it was so focused on customers. “Ikea was always behind because it always spent too little money on what was needed,” he says. A current senior director in the Ikea system, who was not authorised to speak about the company, says the founder was sceptical about doing business online. “ ‘What’s in it for us?’ he would ask. ‘Our selling point is that the customers take it home to build it.’ ” The director hints that this conservatism has affected Ikea, comparing the situation with H&M, another family-run Swedish retailer that has been under big pressure from online retailers. A different senior leader on the network of companies says: “[Ikea] were late to the game. They had no visionary. They had a great business model and became too comfortable with it.” Unprompted, the director adds: “My big fear is complacency. We have too much money. We have too much time.” Frustration at Ikea’s building instructions is a rite of passage for students or expectant parents across the world. But trying to understand how Ikea itself is put together is arguably even harder. From its humble, rural beginnings, Ikea grew quickly, as much by instinct as design. Kamprad moved into furniture only after he took a bet on an armless chair he named Ruth for his mail-order business and it rapidly sold out. An Ikea catalogue from 1951 © Getty The flat-pack concept took off after a worker took the legs off a table to allow it to fit in a car. In 1955, Kamprad faced a crisis when Swedish rivals pressed suppliers to boycott Ikea but he turned this to his advantage, sourcing cheaper materials from communist Poland instead. Kanter believes Kamprad’s reluctance to rely on outsiders started then. “He didn’t want to be dependent on anybody.” Hence, the founder’s quest to give his construction eternal life, starting in 1982 when he split up the company. The brand and concept went to Inter Ikea, while the retail operations went to Ikea Group. These became the two main pillars of the empire (a third, Ikano, looks after the family’s financial investments). Inter Ikea and Ikea Group have no formal ties any longer with Sweden but have headquarters in the Netherlands, in Delft and Leiden respectively, and are owned by foundations in Liechtenstein and the Netherlands. Recommended Ingvar Kamprad: an obituary Ikea: a rebellion in flat-pack Ikea’s complicated tax-driven structure Tax was at the heart of the decision in more ways than one. Kamprad and his company had fled Sweden a few years earlier in protest at what he saw as eye-watering levels of taxation, with marginal tax rates sometimes exceeding 100 per cent. He was worried that wealth and inheritance tax levels were so high that his three sons would be forced to sell Ikea or float it. So he sought out tax-efficient jurisdictions. “We have always viewed taxes as a cost, equal to any other cost of doing business,” he said in 2011. Controversially, Ikea Group has paid a 3 per cent royalty fee to Inter Ikea ever since for the use of the brand and the concept. Ikea argues this is a classic franchise arrangement used by everybody from McDonald’s to Starbucks. But their particular set-up is highly unusual — given that both the franchisor and the franchisee come from the same original company. One person who has investigated Ikea’s tax affairs — but is not authorised to speak publicly about it — says: “Although on paper, Inter Ikea and Ikea Group are two separate entities, I would argue they actually are not: they are the same. The family sits on both boards, they interact with each other, and management moves from one to another.” Johan Stenebo, a former Kamprad assistant and author of the book The Truth About Ikea (2010), agrees: “The structure was to make it as hazy as possible. [The idea was] Ikea shouldn’t be transparent from a monetary point of view — to avoid taxation.” In December 2017, this complex structure attracted the attention of Brussels. The European Commission is investigating whether Ikea benefited from illegal state aid in two separate ways. The first examines how, from 2006 to 2011, Inter Ikea paid a licence fee to a sister company located in Luxembourg that owned the actual intellectual property. €38bn Ikea’s annual revenues Under a special scheme offered since 1929, Luxembourg did not tax those royalties. After that scheme was closed, Inter Ikea bought the IP rights using a loan from its parent company. The Commission is examining whether both the acquisition price (€9bn) and the interest rate charged of 6 per cent were excessive. The Greens in the European Parliament, who sparked the investigation, estimate that Ikea dodged €1bn in taxes over six years. Given the commission can only probe countries, Inter Ikea itself is not under investigation. Still, the company’s managers can be somewhat awkward about the affair. “I’m not dodging your question,” says Brodin, before admitting in the next breath: “Maybe I am.” He adds: “We have days where we are not perfect but the intentions are very good.” Martin van Dam, Inter Ikea’s chief financial officer, says Kamprad’s comments on tax as a cost “stuck to him”. Loof tries to counter that “tax is a contribution to society”, while Van Dam adds that the company paid €241m in taxes in its last financial year, which gives it an average rate of 21 per cent, according to Inter Ikea. “I’m not impressed by the argument — it’s just Ikea trying to change the topic,” says the investigator who looked into Ikea. “It’s still shifting profits.” Part of the IKEA range in the 1960s © Inter IKEA Systems BV 2016 The broader defence is that Kamprad came up with the structure not to avoid tax but to keep his precious creation out of the hands of the banks he detested. Foundations must use the money they receive for set purposes, changeable only by a court. So Stichting Ingka Foundation, the ultimate owner of Ikea Group, can only reinvest the money in the business or give it to charity. The main purpose of the Interogo Foundation, Inter Ikea’s owner, is to secure the independence and longevity of the Ikea concept. Kanter says that inside the company the structure was seen as “so complicated we didn’t know what to believe”. The unwieldy network of companies is also meant to head off the chance of any family disputes. The Kamprad family — consisting of his three sons, Peter, Mathias and Jonas — are able to take two of the five board seats in the foundation but never a majority. “The family will always be influential. It was set up like that for a reason — having the family grow up in the same spirit, they will be there to influence the company. But it is family-influenced, not family-controlled,” says one of Kamprad’s former lieutenants. Kamprad declined a request for an interview shortly before his death while his sons last gave an interview in 1988. Johan Stenebo vehemently disputes the notion that the family lacks control. “I don’t think they’ve ever let go of their control. It was just an argument from Ingvar to separate himself from his wealth. Whoever controls the foundations, controls Ikea. That control is in the hands of the family.” Bloomberg Billionaires Index states that Kamprad retained ultimate control and was thus the world’s eighth-richest man with a net wealth of $58bn. At first glance, the Ikea store in Delft looks like any other. Located just beyond the canals and postcard-perfect buildings in the Dutch town famous for its pottery, the imposing warehouse sits by the motorway, conveniently midway between Rotterdam and The Hague. Workers and forklift trucks bustle round the warehouse, refilling the shelves before the masses pour in at 10am. The restaurant is packed, first with shoppers wanting a low-price breakfast and, later, those in search of the celebrated meatballs. I ask a shopper called Charlotte from nearby Zoetermeer whether she knew that this was actually the headquarters of perhaps the most important piece of the Ikea corporate jigsaw. She looks wide-eyed in disbelief and says: “I thought they were Swedish.” The store itself is also a prime centre for innovation. It is the only shop owned by Inter Ikea (362 of the 411 stores are run by Ikea Group) and is known as one of Ikea’s reference stores, a shop where everything is meant to be done the proper way, from the layout of products to the shortcuts intended to reduce shopper frustration. 411 Number of Ikea stores in 49 countries Jakub Michalec is the store manager, clad in the classic yellow Ikea uniform with red, brown and white stripes. A Pole, he talks to customers and staff in English, but he makes up for his lack of Dutch with almost boundless enthusiasm. He is particularly proud of a small innovation that he thinks could be rolled out to all Ikea stores. Instead of letting customers pick the queue for paying, they are pooled into one big line and led to a till only when it is free. “The average waiting time is halved,” he says. Heading around the showrooms at the top of the warehouse, we pause at a living room where all the contents together cost less than €499. Ikea workers in Delft spend a lot of time in local homes seeing how people really live. One living room has been dotted with Star Trek figurines and posters, after they discovered that themed areas were increasingly popular in homes. Delft is becoming an increasingly significant player in the Ikea empire. Go past the bathrooms and one enters the headquarters of Inter Ikea. In autumn 2016, it took over some of the main activities from Ikea Group such as product design, manufacturing and supply chain. It is now the equivalent of McDonald’s in the franchising system, exercising control over what Ikea stores should look like and sell all over the world. Stenebo says: “Ikea Group is pretty much about opening and closing the stores only. Inter Ikea is where the power is.” Ingvar Kamprad outside the first Ikea store, opened in 1958, in Almhult in 1963 © Scanpix/PA An internal Inter Ikea document from before Kamprad’s death says the change in shoppers’ behaviour and the retail industry as a whole is “the biggest revolution to have happened since Ikea was founded and it’s clear that we have come to a crossroads”. Loof makes clear the dramatic phrasing is deliberate. “I want to use language that is both inspirational and challenging,” he says. $58bn Kamprad’s estimated net wealth before his death New regions of the world are being explored with the first Ikea stores in South America — in Chile, Peru and Colombia — likely to be opened in the next three to five years. Ikea needs to rethink what affordability means in developing markets such as India, Loof says, staying true to Kamprad’s vision of helping “the many people”. Many of Ikea’s workers come to Delft to learn about the company’s famous culture, largely inspired by dogmas set out in Kamprad’s Testament of a Furniture Dealer. Its nine parts have headings such as “Simplicity is a Virtue” and “Doing it a Different Way”. So pronounced is the devotion to the founder that Stenebo, in his book, called it “cult-like” and similar to that of North Korea. All the chief executives that have followed Kamprad have been either former assistants or heads of Ikea of Sweden, the product-design subsidiary and the part of the business he was most interested in. Stenebo’s book also argued that some of the frugal nature Kamprad displayed was partly for show — writing that as well as his aged Volvo, he drove a Porsche. Kamprad was also forced to confront his past of sympathising with Swedish fascists during and after the second world war — something he called his own “biggest mistake”. One Kamprad trait that Ikea is trying to rediscover, however, is the founder’s entrepreneurial flair, a point stressed by all senior executives. Kanter tells how, as a 32-year-old heading Ikea’s fledgling operations in Austria, he was allowed to purchase a five-carriage train to help transport goods and get around restrictions over what times trucks could drive. “It’s an example of what made Ikea and Ingvar so exciting to work for,” he says. Stenebo adds: “The problem today is that a lot of younger managers started in the more bureaucratic stage. What you are missing today is an innovative outlook when it comes to the digitalisation of Ikea. If there were a time when they would have needed Ingvar’s genius, it is now.” The one and only time I saw Kamprad was on a remarkable autumn day in 2012. Ikea was opening a new store in Almhult, its hometown of just 9,000 inhabitants, to replace its first shop, which had closed a few days earlier. If ever there was an event to demonstrate Ikea’s singular culture — and Kamprad’s influence over it — this was it. The first Ikea store, in Almhult, Sweden The opening began with the town’s mayor, the new store manager and an Ikea designer ceremonially sawing a log into several pieces in the car park, the company’s version of cutting a ribbon. People queued overnight in the cold to be among the first in and were greeted by workers lining the escalators to cheer them into the store. Kamprad even gave the first shoppers a hug. More than a few people were in tears. A few years later, Kamprad ended his self-imposed tax exile in Switzerland and moved back to Almhult. The town is totally dominated by Ikea. The main hotel has a copy of the Bible and the Ikea catalogue in every room. Ikea has faced formidable challenges before and overcome them. Kanter remembers the ill-fated expansion into the US in the 1980s — American shoppers found the drinking glasses too small (they bought vases instead), the ovens tiny and the mattresses too hard. “We did everything wrong. There was nothing we did right. But Ikea made a decision — we are not going to be stubborn Swedes. We had to change a lot,” he says. Ikea managers stress that Kamprad’s death, while sad, should do little to affect the company’s direction. He stood down as chief executive in 1986, and from the boards of Inter Ikea, Stichting Ingka Foundation and Interogo Foundation in 2013. The senior director said: “This company has been preparing a long time for his death. I think we’ll manage.” The senior leader, speaking just before Kamprad’s death, added: “When he finally leaves this earth, it will be a very big deal but it won’t have an impact on the company.” His three sons each have positions in parts of the empire — Mathias with Inter Ikea, Peter with Ikano and Jonas with Ikea Group — though nobody expects them to rock the boat much. But, equally, few inside Ikea dispute the scale of the task ahead as it deals with the online threat and changing shopping habits. Financial chief Van Dam says: “It’s an important moment. If we don’t put this clearly and we don’t create a sense of urgency, we will slip.” My big fear is complacency. We have too much money. We have too much time A senior Ikea director Ikea enters this challenge from a position of strength. Its huge success of tapping into the rise of the middle class in the postwar west fuelled its expansion in the 20th century. It is hoping to repeat the trick, first in China — one of its biggest growth markets — and in India, starting later this year. Many executives see the latter as a crucial test: if it can pull it off in India, where to appeal to the “many people” it will need much lower prices, it might open up whole new areas, such as sub-Saharan Africa. Along the way, it will need to confront its sustainability challenges — it is among the world’s biggest users of wood — with many criticising the cheap and disposable nature of its furniture. Ikea says it is working hard on solutions, from the relatively small — it became the first large retailer to sell only more environmentally friendly LED lightbulbs — to the larger, such as attempting to become a so-called circular company, which focuses on reusing, refurbishing and recycling materials. That includes an initiative in Belgium to offer customers ways of giving their furniture a second life by reselling it, repairing it or donating it to charity; in France and Japan, people can bring in their unwanted products to be resold in the store. Looking ahead, Loof evokes the spirit of Kamprad himself. “Ikea is very well equipped for longevity. As Ingvar used to say, ‘We are always at the beginning, and most things remain to be done.’ ” Richard Milne is the FT’s Nordic and Baltic correspondent
Bron: Financial Times