By Anna Ringstrom
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Ingvar Kamprad, creator of Swedish furniture retailer IKEA, is to take another step back from his company as the youngest of his three sons takes a key board role in a gradual handover of power.
Kamprad, 87, who founded the business in rural south Sweden 70 years ago, stepped down in 1986 as chief executive of IKEA, which has become the world's biggest furniture group, famous for its flat packs and do-it-yourself assembly.
He will now leave the board of a key company within the business - Inter IKEA Group - and his youngest son Mathias will take over as its chairman.
"I see this as a good time for me to leave the board of Inter IKEA Group," Kamprad said in a statement on Tuesday, referring to the company which owns the IKEA brand and which collects 3 percent of IKEA stores' sales worldwide each year.
"By that we are also taking another step in the generation shift that has been ongoing for some years," said Kamprad, a billionaire, who has been resident in Switzerland since the 1970s.
The Kamprad family still controls the complex corporate structure that makes up the IKEA empire and Kamprad himself keeps a tight grip behind the scenes.
Ingvar chairs the Dutch-registered Stiching INGKA Foundation, which controls IKEA Group, the owner of 302 of the 343 IKEA stores worldwide. He is also on the board of family-controlled Interogo Foundation in Liechtenstein, which in turn owns Inter IKEA Group.
Mathias is also an Interogo board member and has held various positions in the Kamprad-founded groups, but like all the Kamprads he has kept a low public profile.
Mathias's two older brothers Jonas and Peter also have board roles within the groups.
GROWTH IN TOUGH MARKETS
Inter IKEA Group also reported on Tuesday a 2012 net profit of 443 million euros ($577 million), up sharply from 87 million the year before, mainly due to a one-off gain.
Chief Executive Soren Hansen said the business climate in Europe, where the bulk of IKEA stores are located, remained challenging, especially in southern Europe.
"What we feel happy about is that we can see that the IKEA concept has stood up relatively well," he said in his first interview since he became boss of Inter IKEA Group in September. "We have in some markets become more relevant, meaning that in some markets we are gaining market shares."
Hansen said Inter IKEA Group's other divisions, besides the franchise unit, improved results in 2012 although rapid expansion in the shopping mall and property development divisions still weighed on group results.
In China, which IKEA Group hopes will become one of its biggest markets, Inter IKEA Group is currently investing 1 billion euros in three shopping centers, the first of which is due to open early year.
Inter IKEA Group's net turnover grew 7 percent to 2.6 billion euros in 2012, helped by new store openings and positive currency effects, but also by around 3 percent growth in like-for-like license sales.
"While most developed economies strive to balance economics and social wellbeing, we will continue to see limited market growth," the company predicted.
Inter IKEA Group has growing property development divisions in which it has substantially increased long-term investments in recent years, and a finance business.
The one off gain in the Inter IKEA Group results related to a 3.6 billion capital injection from Interogo Foundation in connection with the transfer of the IKEA trademark from Interogo. Interogo also lent Inter IKEA Group 5.4 billion euros as part of the deal.
"One extraordinary item was related to the trademark transaction where we got a capital injection of 3.6 million euros which of course improves our result," Hansen said.
Inter IKEA Group only started publishing figures for its business last year, as part of efforts to become more open.
IKEA Group in January posted record profits in its 2011/12 fiscal year as budget designs enticed austerity-hit shoppers.
($1 = 0.7675 euros)
(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom. Editing by Jane Merriman)