The recent news that Costco Wholesale CEO Jim Sinegal plans to retire next year brought back a flood of memories for me. I covered the company for nearly 7 years as part of a full-time retail beat at Seattle's regional weekly business paper.
For me, Sinegal always seemed like one of the good guys -- an outstanding example of how to be a CEO. He played a major role in building Costco into the third-largest retailer in the country, creating a model that rewards workers handsomely even while competitors cut benefits.
Here are five CEO traits Sinegal has that I wish more business leaders would acquire:
- Use your products. Sinegal is often clad in one of
Costco's $17 dress shirts, long a staple of the company's
apparel department. He proudly wears them to company annual
- Be accessible. The thing that blew me away about Sinegal
was that his office is in the hallway at Costco's Issaquah
headquarters. That's right, not even a door that shut. Not even
a glass wall between him and the rest of the staff. Anybody can
wander by and chat him up, anytime. He also gave me his
cellphone number once, where most execs would make you call in
through one of those conference bridges or have a secretary
patch you through. There are no layers of handlers around
- Treat your employees great. Costco is well-known for
offering above-average pay for warehouse-store workers. The
result is low turnover, low training costs and a family feeling
to the company. They don't have to do much recruiting, as
current employees are happy to put out the word to family and
- Stay humble. Despite commanding a $76 billion retail empire , Sinegal is
still honest, straightforward and down-to-earth. His desk on my
last visit was a cheap, Formica-topped folding table -- I think
it had been a Costco sale item -- and behind him sat an aged,
fabric-covered message board. No burnished hardwood executive
desk and fancy whiteboards for him.
- Listen. If there was a store opening across the globe from Seattle, Sinegal was there. He wanted to talk to customers and employees, so he could learn more about how to serve them.
What are the best traits for a CEO? Leave a comment and give us your take.
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