From Scandinavia comes a selective corporate history of IKEA, the international purveyor of furniture and housewares, interlarded with an idolatrous biography of its founder, Ingvar Kamprad (whose initials form the first half of the firm's name; the last two letters are for the Swedish places of origin). In an overblown text that is considerably less appealing than IKEA's inexpensive furniture, the story of the business is sketched from its birth during WWII to 1998 and its 137th store. If the cultlike, paternalistic theme of the Ikean "family" and the vaunted concern for the lives of "ordinary people" (i.e., customers) is overworked, the awestruck depiction of Kamprad as a visionary genius is risible. The paragon is given to weeping on cue and hugging employees. At one head-office gathering, employees are "given a kind of laying-on of hands. . . . They depart with a fine Christmas present in their arms—three green towels with face cloths." The story of the poor boy who became a benevolent billionaire concerned with "honor and reputation" doesn't wash. This hagiography, published last year in Europe, seems to have been authorized in an attempt to answer press reports about Kamprad's former regard for "Uncle Hitler." Forget the Founder's youthful embrace of Nazism; he now regrets it. Of course he does. Kamprad, no longer a Swedish resident for tax reasons, has much to say, in boldface, about himself. He emerges, at best, as a benign despot with a true facility for false humility. The description of the complex business organization is no more complete or reliable than that of the boss. With no serious analysis given to IKEA's business problems, the book often seems as wobbly as do-it-yourself furniture assembled with the wrong tools and mismatched parts.
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