Strategy

Retail: Ikea's image is under fire

Tyranny? Racism? Sexism? Former Ikea exec's exposé rocks retailer's reputation.

The familiar blue-and-yellow Ikea logo is darkly reflected in Johan Stenebo’s Terminator-style sunglasses on the cover of his new book Sanningen om Ikea, or, The Truth about Ikea. The view is equally dark on the pages within, as the former managing director’s exposé (published only in Swedish) details the secret, unethical business decisions that Stenebo alleges surround the contemporary furniture maker’s founder — billionaire octogenarian Ingvar Kamprad.

Stenebo’s description of the Ikea conglomerate sounds like an ant colony. The queen controls the direction of the worker ants with eyes only for efficiency, and, in the case of Kamprad, economic savings. Stenebo claims that the Chinese wood used in so much of Ikea’s furniture comes from suspect places, that executives all hail from the same city in Sweden, and that some are racist and sexist.

These accusations are made all the more startling by Ikea’s quiet 60-year history and generally positive reputation. Few would think, as Stenebo suggests, that the private company is run with devious methods resembling those used by East German secret police, the Stasi.

Stenebo leavens his attack with assurances that he’s purely concerned for the future of the company, but some critics say his harsh appraisal is just sour grapes. After all, Stenebo has watched Kamprad’s “incompetent” male spawn move into the top spots at Ikea, being groomed to run the show, while the 20 years he spent working his way up from a German Ikea warehouse, to upper management, to being Kamprad’s right-hand man have run their course. Stenebo’s bitter book is unlikely to change Ikea’s nepotism, but it’s his only solace.