Malcolm Gladwell Says IKEA Built A Multibillion-Dollar Brand Because Its Founder Was A Bit Of A Jerk

Founded in 1943 in a tiny town in southern Sweden, the IKEA brand is now worth about $11 billion, making it one of the most valuable brands in the world.

This has made 88-year-old founder Ingvar Kamprad very wealthy: Forbes estimates that he’s worth $US3.8 billion.

If you ask Malcolm Gladwell, whose books have been read by more than 4.5 million people, Kamprad has succeeded thanks to an often-unpopular personality trait: disagreeableness. It’s one of the Big 5 personality traits, along with extroversion, emotional stability, conscientiousness, and openness to experience.

Ingvar KampradIKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad cares about furniture, not what you think of him.

On stage at the World Business Forum in New York last week, Gladwell argued that legendary entrepreneurs — like Kamprad and Steve Jobs — have the rare combination of conscientiousness, openness, and disagreeableness.

Gladwell said that disagreeableness, or “not being concerned if everyone around you thinks you’re crazy,” is necessary to do innovative work.

Gladwell elaborates on this idea in his latest book, “David and Goliath”:

But crucially, innovators need to be disagreeable … They are people willing to take social risks — to do things that others might disapprove of.

That is not easy. Society frowns on disagreeableness. As human beings we are hardwired to seek the approval of those around us. Yet a radical and transformative thought goes nowhere without the willingness to challenge convention.

And Kamprad, Gladwell said, provides a case study in the virtues of disagreeableness.

Consider the events of the Swedish entrepreneur’s life.

In the 1920s, Kamprad started selling matches as a 5-year-old. In 1943, at the ripe age of 17, he founded IKEA. He started selling furniture five years later. Then, in 1956, he introduced a process innovation: “flatpacking” the furniture so that the buyer can assemble it, which cut tons of costs.

Ikea shopping cartsAndreas Rentz/GettyIKEA is now part of everybody’s life.

So many costs that he faced a boycott, making it impossible for him to manufacture furniture in Sweden. So he moved his manufacturing operation to Poland — a very disagreeable decision.

“1961. Cold War. Tension,” Gladwell said. “At the height of hostilities between East and West, he decides to move from Sweden to Poland.”

It caused a furor back home.

“That’s like Walmart moving to North Korea,” Gladwell said. “People called him a traitor.”

But did he care?

“No,” Gladwell said. “Because he’s not the kind of person who cares about what his peers think of him.”

He is, in other words, disagreeable.

And that has made all the difference.

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