Jim Sinegal - Co-founder of Costco Wholesale Corporation - San Diego City College
San Diego City College graduate Jim Sinegal and business partner Jeff Brotman co-founded Costco Wholesale Corporation in 1983, and six years later it became the first American retailer to eclipse $3 billion in sales in its first six years of operation. Sinegal retired as president and CEO in January 2012 but remains on the board.
Sinegal started as a bagger at FedMart in 1954 while attending San Diego City College and worked his way up to executive vice president in charge of merchandising and operations. He was a vice president of merchandising for Builders Emporium from 1977 to 1978 and executive vice president for the Price Company from 1978 to1979. From 1979 to 1983, he worked with Sinegal/Chamberlain and Associates, a company that acted as a broker and sales representative for food and non-food products. Sinegal's innovations made Costco the first warehouse club to include fresh food, eye-care clinics, pharmacies and gas stations.
"I can truly say that attending San Diego Community College, it was called San Diego Junior College in 1953, was a life changing experience for me," Sinegal said. "I was 17 years old and just graduated from high school, and education had become a low priority in my life for my last two years in high school. The state university system strongly recommended I attend junior college for a semester to determine if I really wanted a college education. I loved the (community college) system and enjoyed it so much that I once again became engaged in learning and stayed for four semesters before transferring to San Diego State University. There is no question that I would never have succeeded in business if that experience had not been available."
Costco now has 608 warehouses in operation, including 439 in the United States and Puerto Rico, 82 in Canada, 32 in Mexico, 22 in the United Kingdom, 13 in Japan, nine in Taiwan, eight in Korea and three in Australia. Annual sales are approximately $90 billion a year and the company employs almost 150,000 people worldwide.
Sinegal was a protégé of Sol Price, who pioneered the concept of the warehouse store that sells high volumes of a small variety of goods to members only. Sinegal is known for a benevolent style of management that offers employees high benefits and rewards. That doesn' always sit well with investors looking for lower operating costs to create higher dividends.
Sinegal told the Houston Chronicle in a feature story that he was not interested in Wall Street analysts who took issue with his care for employees and customers rather than happier shareholders. Investors might want higher earnings, Sinegal said, but "we want to build a company that will still be here 50 and 60 years from now."
In 1993, Costco merged with Sol Price's Price Club to become PriceCostco. After the merger, PriceCostco had 206 locations generating $16 billion in annual sales. Sol Price left the company in 1994 and in 1997, the company changed its name to Costco Wholesale and all Price Club locations were rebranded Costco.
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