Influential Leaders

James Sinegal

James Sinegal

San Diego State University, College of Business Administration

Retail Sales

James Sinegal, cofounder, CEO for more than 27 years, and a director of Costco Wholesale Corporation, started his career in business as an 18-year-old college student. He began work for the legendary retail icon Sol Price at the discount store FedMart in San Diego and remained working for Price for almost 30 years before striking out on his own to start Costco with his business partner, Jeff Brotman. Today, Costco has more than 670 warehouses and more than 70 million shopping members spread throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, Australia, Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan.

Arguably San Diego State University’s most successful business alumnus, Sinegal boasts accomplishments that transcend his business success. He embodies a philosophy and set of values that sets him apart as a role model for students. Committed to quality goods and services at the lowest possible prices, he is passionate about creating terrific merchandising value for the consumer. Costco customers pay for the merchandise, not for the overhead. And this situation was not accomplished by squeezing profits out of vendors or at the expense of employees. Under Sinegal’s leadership, Costco went to extraordinary pains to help vendors lower prices through improved logistics, improved ordering, and sharpened production processes. Costco employees, who have always been some of the best paid in retail, are recognized as valuable partners of the corporation.

Sinegal built his success on solid values and ethics. He has taken advantage of his formal education by combining it with hard work and discipline. He came from humble beginnings and went on to achieve great results, inspiring those around him.

Sinegal has earned a reputation for generosity to customers, as well to employees. Costco's average pay has always been much higher than most big-box retail rivals, along with generous benefits and opportunities for internal advancement. Sinegal always rejected Wall Street's assumption that success in discount retailing requires poor employee compensation, skimpy benefits, and constantly increasing prices to meet profit demands. A 2005 New York Times article titled “How Costco Became the Anti-Wal-Mart” notes of Costco’s success, “Good wages and benefits are why Costco has extremely low rates of turnover and theft by employees. And Costco's customers, who are more affluent than other warehouse store shoppers, stay loyal because they like that low prices do not come at the workers' expense. ‘This is not altruistic,’ [Sinegal] said. ‘This is good business.’”