Ingvar Kamprad

Ingvar Kamprad is another business mogul who has made it all the way to the top despite struggles with dyslexia. He was born in a very rural area of Sweden in 1926, and although his family lived on a sizeable farm, he grew up in harsh conditions in a time that was hard for everyone. The province, Småland, was agrarian but relatively poor, and everyday life consisted of frugality and hard work. This upbringing had a huge influence on Kamprad’s future business sense and style of management and leadership.

As mentioned, hard work was no stranger to the young Kamprad, but neither was the will to prove himself and do more than expected. He started selling matches at the age of 6, and by the time he was 10, he was a familiar sight in the nearby villages, selling anything from fish to pencils and even Christmas decorations. Despite his struggles with dyslexia, Kamprad did well in school which prompted his father to award him with a small sum of money when he was 17. This was in 1943, and it was the money that would found the business IKEA. You might think that IKEA is some random Swedish word, much like the names of their furniture, but in fact, it’s an abbreviation for his name and childhood address; Invar Kamprad, Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd.

In the early years, IKEA was a mail order company with no actual stores, and it wasn’t until 1947 that the company started selling furniture from local manufacturers. The very first IKEA catalogue was introduced in 1951, and two years later, a furniture warehouse was established in an old factory. However, other manufacturers were not happy about Kamprad’s low prices, and in 1955 a boycott began against IKEA. It was then that Kamprad decided it was time to sell in-house designs, which also prompted the introduction of the flat pack. And there you have it, the IKEA concept, complete in all its glory; affordable and simple flat-packed furniture, with design, distribution and sale all done in-house.

As a leader and business man, Kamprad implements the same concepts in life as those he used to build his empire. Although he is obviously wealthy and owns large properties all over the world, he still has a no nonsense approach to his business. He calls his employees co-workers, travels in economy class and encourages a formal dress code.

Kamprad is fairly secretive about his wealth and won’t do interviews, so one can only estimate how much money this man is really worth. He has consistently been at the top of Sweden’s richest people list, and is normally placed somewhere between 1st and 11th of the world’s richest people.

Kamprad’s dark side appeared with the revelation of his involvement in fascist groups in pre-war Sweden. According to certain documents, Kamprad was a part of this movement from the age of 16 until 19, although some claim he still sympathises with the movement. Kamprad himself, commented on this part of his life, in the book Leading by Design: The IKEA Story, and has even called his fascist affiliation the greatest mistake of his life. Despite these dark revelations, Kamprad also does a lot of good through charitable foundations. He is the man behind The Stitching IKEA Foundation as well as Familjen Kamprads Stiftelse, which are both charitable organizations donating large sums of money to a wide range of causes.

Kamprad only moved home to Sweden in 2014, after living most of his adult life in Switzerland. At 90 years of age, he is still going strong and perhaps, it is the no-nonsense attitude that keeps him young at heart.

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos is known mainly for his entrepreneurial skills, and above all, for founding the hugely successful Amazon Company. Bezos was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico to a teenage mother. His parents divorced after only a year, and his mother remarried when Jeff was four years old. He showed a talent for mechanics from an early age, and as the story goes, he began by trying to dismantle his crib as a toddler. Ready to ‘get up an at’em’ this one! Later, he set up an electric alarm to keep his younger siblings out of his bedroom. All this science and engineering proficiency paid off early on, and in high school he attended a special training program at the University of Florida, and earned a Silver Knight Award at 19 years old. He was also the high school Valedictorian, and a National Merit Scholar. Not a bad start at all, and a good indication of what was to become of Jeff in the future.

After high school he went on to Princeton University,where he graduated summa cum laude, with two Bachelor of Science degrees; one in computer science and one in electrical engineering.

Bezos’s biggest success, Amazon.com, was founded in 1994. He had read about the 2000% growth of the World Wide Web in a single year, and he wanted in on the action. At that time he was vice-president of the Wall Street firm, D.E. Shaw & Co., and was making very good money. His boss initially pleaded with him to stay, but Bezos made the decision to take a chance with his new internet venture. The brand new Amazon.com was first set up in his garage, and within the first month it sold books to people in 45 different countries, as well as all 50 states. From there the company only continued to grow, and went public in 1997.

It seems that Bezos has never looked back since the moment Amazon.com was launched, and with the success he’s had, who can blame him? He is still an integral cog in the Amazon wheel and is known for being both fun and more than slightly obsessed with the minor details. He does not delegate every single task run through his company, but prefers micromanaging down to the most miniscule detail. A great example of this is the fact that customers actually have the option of emailing Bezos directly with customer service issues. Now, which other business mogul does that?

Bezos’ leadership style is a little unorthodox and he is known for being somewhat volatile at times. He has also taken a step away from modern comforts and banned power point presentations at Amazon. Alternatively,his employees are required to submit 6 page proposals which, he believes, is to encourage critical thinking and avoid over simplification.

As the Amazon adventure continues to grow, Bezos is always at the forefront with new ideas for taking his success to new heights. Literally. A current major project for Bezos is Blue Origin, a company that plans to offer various aspects of space travel for humans in the future. The company was started in 2000, but was kept a secret until 2006. Bezos wants space travel to be available for “anybody”, and has initiated ways to decrease costs of space travel. Looking back, Bezos has been talking about space travel plans since his high school days, and it seems this is an interest he won’t let go of.

Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson is one of the biggest business moguls in the world. The founder and owner of the Virgin Group, he was born in London in 1950, and had a nose for business from a very early age. Branson was a relatively poor student, probably largely due to the fact that he had dyslexia. As we all know, there wasn’t a great deal of specialized learning back in the late 20th century, and in fact, Branson was told by a headmaster at one of his schools that he would either end up a millionaire or in prison! Maybe that was just what he needed to hear, as he set out to make his own money from an early age.

At 15, he opened his first business venture; a magazine called Student. Only five years later, at the age of 20, Branson started up a mail-order record business. The name Virgin was proposed to him by one of his initial employees, as they were all ‘new’ to the business. Using his magazine to advertise records, he started to gain success with his mail-order sales. He was offering products at much lower prices than the high street shops, and was eventually able to open his own shop on Oxford Street.

In 1972, Branson collaborated with Nik Powell to launch the record label Virgin Records. They bought a country estate just north of Oxford, and it was here that the first studio was set up, named Manor Studio. The studio was leased out to various artists, and the first release came in 1973 with Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells.

The business ventures of Richard Branson have fluctuated, with some amazing successes as well as some pretty devastating failures. One of the more substantial downfalls was the launch of Virgin Cola back in the 90s. Branson learned the hard way that trying to replicate the enviable success of the Coca Cola Company was not easy. Virgin Brides, a company specializing in bridal wear, was another disappointing business venture. Whilst I understand the importance of sustaining the Virgin brand, the bridal shop was perhaps taking things a bit too far. Despite these failures and even near bankruptcy, the Virgin brand has remained strong, with business ventures all over the world and even some out of this world! Virgin Galactic plans to offer space travel to adventurous (and rich!) customers, but so far the venture has been delayed several times, mostly due to safety and operational issues.

Today, Branson leaves the operation of the Virgin Group to other people, and is focusing more on other interests. Previously a self-proclaimed climate change sceptic, Branson has changed his tune and is now a major supporter of work to minimize climate change and its effects. He is also active in the charity Virgin Unite. In fact, Branson’s philanthropy has earned him an honorable mention from the UN, and being one of the richest people in the UK, people tend to listen when Richard Branson talks. Branson has also been knighted for his contributions as an entrepreneur, and even holds several world records in different fields. This is a man with fingers in a lot of pies, and those are pies most people would love to get their hands on.

He currently resides on his very own island, namely Necker Island, which is part of the British Virgin Islands and probably not a coincidence, given his lifelong attachment to the Virgin name!