A Personal Tale about a Top CEO

When my husband and I recently made one of our frequent shopping at our local Costco warehouse, I glanced down an aisle and commented that the man walking away from us looked like Jim Sinegal, the company’s co-founder and retired CEO. The man strolling down the aisle was wearing casual slacks, a dress shirt, and tennis shoes, and he was surveying all the shelves. When I saw him bend down to pick up something that had fallen into the aisle, I knew it was Sinegal!

He’s a model for any study on what makes an exceptional leader; that’s why Barron’s included him several years ago on its list of the top 30 CEOs in the world. Sinegal loves the business, he’s indefatigable, personable, a tough negotiator, a great communicator and storyteller, and very demanding about taking meticulous care of stores and parking lots. Of course he’d pick up clutter on a warehouse floor!

He also believes in taking good care of employees, insisting that above-industry pay and benefits were essential to running a successful business. He stuck to his position despite the fact that a number of investors were raising a fuss several years ago, pushing for lower employee compensation to increase profits. In discussions with a number of Costco employees and visits to corporate headquarters, I had learned first-hand that employees appreciate Sinegal’s approach–and that view was underscored the day my husband and I saw him in the Kirkland, WA warehouse.

We were checking out at the same time, separated  by only a couple of check-stands. As we watched him check out and wait his turn in line to have his receipt reviewed at the exit, we noticed that he chatted or waved to all the employees along the way–all the way out into the parking lot.  And they all greeted him with a big smile and a “Hi, Jim!” Wouldn’t you love to work for someone like that? How would you rate your CEO against that standard?

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