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Lesson #2: The Best Leadership is by Example
Kamprad may be worth $28 billion, but to look at him you would never know it. He drives a 13-year-old Volvo 240 GL, of which he says, “It is nearly new, just 15 years old, or something like that.” When not driving his old Volvo, Kamprad can be seen taking public transportation in Switzerland, riding the bus alongside other commuters. He also continues to fly economy class and avoids luxury hotels when out of town. In a document Kamprad wrote in 1976, entitled “A Furniture Dealer’s Testament,” he suggests, “IKEA people do not drive flashy cars or stay at luxury hotels.” Indeed, Kamprad practices what he preaches. “How the hell can I ask people who work for me to travel cheaply if I am traveling in luxury?” he asks. “It’s a question of good leadership.”
Early on in his career, Kamprad recognized that the best way to encourage hard work and a strong character in others was to exemplify that in his own life. Encouraging a double standard between him and his workers, Kamprad believed, would be detrimental to both the health and wealth of the entire company. “I could regularly travel first class, but having money in abundance doesn’t seem like a good reason to waste it,” he says. “Why should I choose first class? To be offered a glass of champagne from the air hostess? If it helped me arrive at my destination more quickly, then maybe.”
Kamprad’s thriftiness is not limited to his means of transportation. Like all his employees are encouraged to do, Kamprad writes everything on both sides of the paper. He also stands out among other corporate executives in refusing to have his own private and well-equipped office. “I could have an office all to myself, but since my collaborators don’t have one, then I too am content to have a desk in the shared room,” says Kamprad. “It is better to be a bit stingy than throw money out of the window.”
In spending his money, Kamprad would not only think of his employees, but also he would always put himself in the shoes of his customers. If he were in their position, what would guide him to make purchases? “I’m a bit tight with money, but so what?” he asks. “I look at the money I’m about to spend on myself and ask myself if IKEA’s customers can afford it.”
That is why, whether he is buying a table or a car or even a postcard, Kamprad will try to economize and go for the best deal possible. He is the personification of his company, and he knows that his workers will look to him for direction. “If you want to maximize results, it’s not enough to simply preach – you have to set a good example,” says Kamprad. “I am very proud to follow the rules of our company.”
And, why does Kamprad spend so much time and energy focused on maximizing his resources? It is because his vision is one with no limits. “Everything we earn we need as a reserve,” he says. “We have to still develop the Ikea group. We need many billions of Swiss francs to take on China or Russia.”
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