Ikea Names Former Google Sweden Head to Its Board

The move was made to bring in expertise in e-commerce and new technologies, according to an Ikea board spokesman.

Ikea has appointed a former head of Google in Sweden as a member of the company's board of directors with the idea of capitalizing on the experiences of Google in e-commerce and progressive new technologies.

The move was unveiled in a Jan. 3 report by The Local, which said that former Google Sweden executive Stina Honkamaa Bergfors was brought in as "part of a bid to make the retailer's presence online more solid and vibrant."

Göran Grosskopf, chairman of the board for the Netherlands-based Ingka Holdings, which is the parent company of Ikea Group, told The Local that "Stina's specialist competencies within international media in a dynamic environment, in combination with her knowledge of e-commerce and a strong customer focus profile, makes her an excellent addition to our board."

Grosskopf told another publication, business daily Dagens Industri, that "[o]ur stores will always be our most important base, but we see that e-commerce is picking up very quickly. Just the past few years so much has happened and we have to, of course, follow trends and develop to stay alive."

Another reason for Honkamaa Bergfors' appointment is that Ikea "wanted to get a younger [board] and also looked for women candidates, which is good for diversity," he told the publications. "Stina has been on our radar for many years."

Honkamaa Bergfors had headed Google and YouTube Sweden for five years, according to the reports. Her experience with online video is something that could end up being useful for Ikea. "Ikea is already good at that, but I'm sure it can be developed," she told Dagens Industri in an interview. "Via YouTube you can reach millions of users all over the world, so it offers a very exciting possibility to communicate with customers."

Several IT analysts contacted by eWEEK said they see the move by Ikea to bring in the ex-Google executive as a smart one.

"Call it the Marissa Mayer effect," which refers to Yahoo's hiring of Mayer away from Google in July 2012, said Charles King, principal analyst of Pund-IT. "You might even call it the Google mojo effect. It's the idea that a company that feels like it wants to get its online presence more up to date in a quick and efficient manner would go to a company that already seems to have such an Internet presence."

In Google's case, that's at a point where it is even dominant in the marketplace right now, said King.

While Ikea does have an online presence today, it is dated and organized in a way that's akin to looking at the Ikea product catalog on the Internet without a lot of bells and whistles, he said. "I think it could use some updating and ushering into the 21st century."

By bringing in an ex-Google executive as a board member rather than as a company employee, it is likely she won't be able to provide the same kind of results compared to bringing her in for day-to-day business decisions, said King. As a board member, however, she could recommend new hires, offer strategy, and provide other help and ideas. "She could put her fingerprints on an improved online strategy," he said.

Daniel Maycock, an analyst with OneAccord Digital, told eWEEK that Honkamaa Bergfors could help Ikea turn its in-store and online shopping experiences into more interactive digital experiences for customers. "Ikea has always strived to connect the in-store experience with the in-home experience," said Maycock. "That's how they lay out their stores. It's kind of their mantra. But what has been missing is more interactivity in the stores, with tablets and things."

Bringing in someone who formerly worked at Google "is a great step" for Ikea, he said. "What Google understands is about integrated experiences. This move shows that Ikea is taking it more seriously than they have in the past. Having someone who knows this says to me that they recognize its importance for their future and that they are looking at how they can incorporate it."

Another analyst, Rob Enderle of Enderle Group, said that bringing a former Google executive like Honkamaa Bergfors to Ikea's board can add useful ideas and experience for Ikea. "Ad hoc people go onto boards to add skill sets on a high level," said Enderle, especially in areas where companies need help. "Google is very engaged in forward-looking technology. Ikea is looking to branch out and do some other stuff."