Leading By Design: The Ikea Story

Based on exclusive interviews with the legendary founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, Leading by Design tells the inside story of Kamprad’s humble roots and of the visionary concepts and innovative strategies that turned a small, Swedish mail-order company into a worldwide commercial giant.

When in 1943 at age seventeen Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA, he had no way of knowing that IKEA would come to represent dedication to quality, a distinct design style, and convenience to the harried modern consumer. Today, more than 195 million people worldwide frequent his 150 stores in thirty countries, and almost 100 million catalogs are printed each year.

As the grandson of German immigrants who went to Sweden in search of a better life, Ingvar Kamprad grew up on a farm in a rural village. But he was no farmer. Early in his life, he discovered his natural affinity for business. From cigarette lighters and fish to Christmas cards and pens, young Ingvar devoted himself to importing and selling anything he thought he could make a profit on. Furniture was just one item in a long and fairly undistinguished list’until, in an effort to best his main competitor, he took a chance on an armless nursing chair he called Ruth. It quickly sold out. Adding a coffee table and then a sofa bed and then a chandelier, Kamprad was astonished by how quickly the merchandise moved.

The rest is business history. In Leading by Design, Bertil Torekull, a well-known Swedish journalist, reveals the genius and the secrets behind IKEA’s extraordinary success. With candor and detail, he offers insights into Kamprad’s cutting-edge management strategies, his enthusiasm to embrace innovative methods (such as producing ready-to-assemble merchandise and using a car door factory to produce affordable products with universal appeal), and the tools he used to grow the IKEA brand into a veritable industry unto itself.

More than a standard business history Leading by Design captures the essence of Kamprad himself. It is a testament to the inspiration, the ideas, and the innovations that make a good business great.

Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure

Jerry Kaplan had a dream: he would redefine the known universe (and get very rich) by creating a new kind of computer. All he needed was sixty million dollars, a few hundred employees, a maniacal belief in his ability to win the Silicon Valley startup game. Kaplan, a well-known figure in the computer industry, founded GO Corporation in 1987, and for several years it was one of the hottest new ventures in the Valley. Startup tells the story of Kaplan’s wild ride: how he assembled a brilliant but fractious team of engineers, software designers, and investors; pioneered the emerging market for hand-held computers operated with a pen instead of a keyboard; and careened from crisis to crisis without ever losing his passion for his revolutionary idea. Along the way, Kaplan vividly recreates his encounters with eccentric employees, risk-addicted venture capitalists, and industry giants such as Bill Gates and John Sculley. And no one — including Kaplan himself — is spared his sharp wit and o

LibraryThing

When I attended a party thrown by Joel Spolsky at his apartment, I got to browse through his library. Joel’s library was somewhat bigger and better organized than mine, but with a significant overlap: on almost every shelf I encountered at least several books that I already had or had in my wishlist.

Keeping a large library is something that I feel a little guilty about. Living space is precious and books take up a lot of it. One of my livejournal friends told me that he does not keep more than a small bookshelf of books at home (although he reads more than I do). Once he’s done with a book he either sells it at Half Price Books or gives it to a friend or acquaintance.

So why do I keep all the books? Besides the obvious vanity: look how sophisticated and edjumacated I am, there are other, more subtle reasons. When I was little, my father had an even bigger library. It was a great: exploring hundreds of books right at home was a great joy. My bed was located right under a huge bookshelf – if I wanted some bedtime reading all I had to do was to stretch my hand.

Joel put it best that evening: he feels that if somebody would read all the books that he has read, that person would start thinking similarly. A library is a sort of a mind dump, a memex chain. It becomes a part of who you are. Giving my library up would be extremely difficult for me. Call it the collector’s instinct, a fetish – it does not matter. Some poor people just are attached to physical books.

One of the reasons I got a job at TV Guide was because at the time it purchased two most promising eBook companies, NuvoMedia and Softbook. It thought that the electronic revolution would finally happen and we’d be reading from small electronic tablets, like on Star Trek. I do love paper books, but the promise of instant gratification and the library in a chip that was promised to us so long ago was even more tempting.

Sadly, the two companies were deprived of resources and smothered. I still think that the tablet reader is in our near future, and the Sony eInk tablet is a step in the right direction, although I am so displeased with Sony for a number of reasons (about which I’ll rant some other time) that I refuse to buy any of their products. In any case, my former co-worker Martin Eberhard, the founder of NuvoMedia (maker of the more successful and practical RocketBook) is now building awesome electric cars. I really wish I had a chance to interact with him at TVG — I share his fascination with Tesla and world changing technologies.

Since the ebook revolution is not coming any time soon, I finally decided to do something about keeping my books organized and joined LibraryThing. LibraryThing is a great online tool that allows you to create a catalog of your books by either typing in an ISBN number or book title. The interface is super usable. To make cataloging even faster I dug out my good ‘ol CueCat that I “declawed” back in the day. Seeing how crappy it was, I broke down and bought a real usb laser barcode scanner off eBay. It works like a charm – there’s a rotating laser inside and everything. Indeed, you get what you pay for.

I simply scan the barcode (if there’s one) or type in the title, add a tag that contains a shelf number – and that’s it. Now if I need to find a book I can simply search for it and find out which shelf it’s on. I don’t really need a more exact location. So far I’ve entered about 250 books. This covers the kitchen, bathroom and a couple of shelves in the living room. Altogether I have 2 Ikea Billys in the living room, 2 in one bedroom and 3 in another. In my estimation there should be at least 2000 books in my library, although a friend of mine thinks that it’s more like 1000. We’ll see who’s right once I’ll finish the catalog. My friend estimated (conservatively) that I spent about $5 per book, so my books must have cost me $5-10K. I feel kind of like Carrie from Sex and the City who had about $40K worth of Blahniks in her closet.

It’s Tough Being Boss

Several days ago I was startled by something in a post titled “moving up in “teh company”” in Livejournal’s Starbucks barrista community. The poster said:

“< insert typical “yay me, I’m being promoted to SS” comment here >

So I went to my learning coach class last night. It was very informative and good. I’ll begin official SS training about a week and a half from now.”

It took me a little while to realize that SS in Starbucksian jargon stands for Shift Supervisor, not Schutzstaffel. Over the years I got used to being asked for my SS (Social Security) number, but apparently when I hear “SS” in other contexts my first thought is still “Nazis!”.

This reminded me of a rumor that I’ve heard before. See, I’ve been told that that SS uniforms were so stylish because they were designed by Hugo Boss. It did not sound right – I thought that Hugo Boss is an American company, that was created after the war and that Hugo Boss is not a real person, but a created brand, like Mavis Beacon (see my post about that).

The first place I went to was hugoboss.com. Well, I was wrong, it’s a German company all right. But the website is missing “Company history” section. Suspicious. I mean, usually established companies are rather proud of their beginnings. Kennethcole.com, for instance, has a whole segment about how Kenneth Cole (he’s a real person, I’ve even met him once) hacked New York City rules by pretending to shoot a movie in order to gain valuable parking permit necessary to sell shoes out of a trailer. You can read all about it here.

So, I did a little digging of my own and guess what – according to Wikipedia, which in turn quotes Washington Post, Hugo Boss, the founder of the company did indeed design and manufacture Nazi uniforms, and on top of that likely used forced labour.

Here’s a picture from hugoboss.com:

And here’s one from Wikipedia that I doctored up a little (I changed the position of the guy on the right – the original is here)

Maybe Hugo Boss of today is very, very different from the WWII era one, but they do make some snappy clothes.