If your read my last blog then you’ll know that the late, great Mr Ingvar Kamprad played an important role in building Ideon into the largest and most successful Science Park in Scandinavia.
Back in 2008, when I met Ingvar for the last time over lunch, he was still very active and curious about the developments at Ideon. He was especially interested in how we supported the young entrepreneurs and start-ups at the Park. I was happy to tell him about the four different incubator programmes which involved around 50 new companies, with many of them doing really well for themselves at that time. We also talked about the challenges faced by these young people and all the risks they were taking on, not least financially.
“When I was younger it was much easier. If we failed we could always go back and pick potatoes,” Ingvar said to me, before adding: “we must convince the government to extend the social security system to include these young entrepreneurs.” He looked me straight in the eyes and said: “Can you promise to get in touch with the Minister for Employment and make this situation clear, ask if they can help make it easier for these youngsters?” What could I do? I had to say, ‘yes of course’.
On the way out of the meeting I bumped into a journalist from Dagens Industri, the big Financial newspaper in Sweden. “I hear you met with Ingvar Kamprad,” he bristled, “what did he say to you?” I told him that Ingvar was proposing an unemployment benefit for young entrepreneurs and that this would help to convince more people to take the risk of setting up their own businesses in the future.
The next day I was on a plane to Stockholm and onboard was a copy Dagens Industri. On the front page there was a big picture of Ingvar and the headline read: ‘Ingvar Kamprad demands new social security system for entrepreneurs’. The article also quoted me and Ideon Science Park. When I landed and turned on my mobile phone, I was happy to find around a dozen text messages with support for this idea. However my sense of joy was short lived, as one unread message stood out to me like a sore thumb, it was from the IKEA Corporate Communications Director and it read: CALL ME!! Oh dear, what do I do now? I knew what was coming and I’m sure you can guess..
The day after this I wrote a fax to Ingvar - he never used computers - where I explained the situation and provided lots of grovelling apologies. Two days later I received a handwritten response from Ingvar. It read: “Thanks Hans for your message and for your great work in Ideon. Do not worry about the people in IKEA. I really appreciate people who make things happen and especially if it can help this society to improve. So go on and speak to the Government.”
It was of course a big relief to me that Ingvar was fine with what had happened, but it also showed me the greatness of the man. He really understood the value of showing respect to people that worked for him. I have read that Ingvar spent a couple of hours every day responding to people who contacted him, so I suspect he wore out a number of pencils and fax machines over the years.