Alumni Spotlight: James Langel of IKEA and Duross & Langel

Story Highlights

  • James Langel '03, MBA '07, owner of Center City's Duross & Langel soap shop, a rising IKEA star; hopes to be company's first American CFO.

A chance encounter landed James Langel ‘03, MBA ‘07 the job he really wanted. And he is now on his way, at only 31 years old, to landing his dream job.

While earning his MBA at Drexel LeBow, Langel and his partner, Steve Duross, opened up Duross & Langel, a soap shop on 13th Street in Center City. Duross, a licensed esthetician who has worked in product development for several companies including American Crew, formulates the products and actually makes them on the 2nd story right above the store, while Langel handles the business side of the company.

During his MBA program, Langel studied IKEA’s business model for a couple of projects, which sparked his genuine affinity for the company. It was then that he decided he wanted to become involved with IKEA because he liked the company’s corporate practices. By sheer luck, one day an IKEA representative from Sweden wandered into the soap shop. They got to talking, and she told Langel that his ticket to landing the job he wanted at IKEA was to start out on the sales floor. Langel, who had just earned his MBA, was hesitant, but decided to take a chance.

He got a job in the warehouse, lifting boxes, and about six months later he was hired from within to an accounting position in the company’s Philadelphia store. After 18 months in that position, he was promoted to the company’s U.S. corporate office in Conshohocken, Pa., where he currently serves as a senior business intelligence analyst. In that position, he serves as the controller for the U.S. corporate office’s budget and the U.S. marketing budget, and he’s also responsible for goal setting and business planning for IKEA’s operations within the United States.

“Being able to look back and connect the dots, I am so lucky to have started on the sales floor,” he says. “When I recently met the Global Business Navigation Manager for IKEA Global, he was delighted by the fact that I had ‘real store business experience.’ It’s that knowledge and understanding of the business that has helped me climb so quickly in less than 5 years.”

This spring, Langel will be embarking on an exciting adventure – a one-year long interview through a program IKEA launched to try to find its up-and-coming global leaders. First, he will go to Graz, Austria, where he will serve as a marketing analyst for about six months. Langel says he had a little bit of background in German before but is spending a lot of time with Rosetta Stone working to become fluent. He doesn’t know where the company will be sending him for his second stint yet, but seems relaxed about it. “If they send me to Sweden, I’ll learn Swedish,” he says.

Langel doesn’t hesitate when asked what he loves about IKEA. “I love the culture there, the way they treat their people. It’s a fun and energetic environment where I can be myself,” he says, noting that everyone works together in an open space with no offices and a relaxed dress code. “I made a sacrifice, an investment I would call it, and now IKEA is making the investment in me.”

As for his future, Langel is hoping to ace the ‘interview’ and land a permanent job with IKEA in Europe. “I would like to become the first American CFO with IKEA Global someday,” he says.

As his career with IKEA takes off, Langel’s role at the soap shop that bears his name is becoming less pronounced, though he still has a hand in it. The company began selling its products online two years ago, and now 15-20 percent of its sales are generated there. It is also looking to expand its product line and possibly open a spa as well as a second store in another large urban area, perhaps New York City or Miami.