Since the very beginning, IKEA has aimed to be simple and straightforward in its personal contacts – not only with each other at the office but also with customers and visitors. Almost a touch familiar. As the company expanded internationally, employees outside Scandinavia had to get used to a sometimes unfamiliar company culture, with clomping of wooden clogs and a good portion of Swedish simplicity and directness.
Keep it simple.
Step into IKEA and of course you are met by all kinds of furniture and other stuff, but not before you’re greeted with a huge Hej!, Swedish for ‘hello’, at the store entrance. You might say that the entire corporate culture exists in this hej. Not a slick how-do-you-do-sir-or-madam-what-can-I-get-you, just a simple hej.
It is true that Ingvar Kamprad had both a suit and a sportscar during the early IKEA years, but he quickly got rid of the fancy stuff. And perhaps that was no coincidence. Ingvar Kamprad came up in a time of major changes in Swedish society. For example an informal form of address, ‘du’, became standard through the so-calledin Sweden. Contact between people generally became more relaxed. School children started addressing their teachers by their first name, and most people dropped the Mr, Mrs and Miss, even when talking to strangers or their bosses. Ingvar started driving a used Volvo, hung up his suit and hardly ever wore it again. He did wear tails when at dinner with the king, but on every other day he came to work in a well-worn shirt, comfortable trousers and a chunk of moist snuff under his top lip.
There was du-ing and hej-ing, while at the same time working out how to solve various tricky challenges.
When Ingvar Kamprad turned up in the rather traditional world of Swedish furniture in the 1950s he may have been a businessman, but he was also a bit of a rebel. Of course he wanted to do business and make money, but he always did so using a simple form of address, whether talking to co-workers or suppliers. There was du-ing and hej-ing, while at the same time working out how to solve various tricky challenges. Over the years, simple and unpretentious have come to be hallmarks of the company. Swedish, equal, but still a bit rebellious, has been the general idea.
The simple approach to meeting and speaking is intended to make work easier, while a flatter organisation makes the job more fun and smooth-running. All in all, the corporate culture at IKEA could be boiled down to a big Hej!