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The Wit And Wisdom Of Jim Sinegal

Jim Sinegal, CEO of Costco, is a 21st Century Sam Walton of sorts.

His low-key style, his regular visits to every store, and his open defiance of Wall Street in paying his people the best wages in discount retail recall the humanity and rugged individualism that infused Wal-Mart before it lost its way.

No surprise then that Costco management maintains a series of pithy business aphorisms designed to instruct and inspire its staff. I learned of these adages not through dogged investigative work but in the pages of The Costco Connection, the company’s monthly publication for club members.

As editor David Fuller recounted, employees had compiled select maxims into a series of posters designed to satirize the down-home wisdom and workaday culture of Sinegal and his team. But as Fuller noted, the posters also honored Sinegal’s slogans for reflecting Costco’s relentless emphasis on basic blocking and tackling, a concept that some retailers have seemingly lost sight of.

Love it or loathe it, Costco should be respected, understood, and studied. The axioms are a good place to start:

  • On focus: “If you’re a big-picture guy, you’re not in the picture. Retail is detail.”
  • On reevaluation: “It makes no sense to do inexpensively what we shouldn’t be doing at all.”
  • On managers: “If you don’t understand that teaching is your main job, you just don’t get it.”
  • On their business model: “We only have one bullet in our gun: the right product at the right price.”
  • On others: “Competition makes you stronger. If our top competitor didn’t exist, we would have to make them up.”
  • On life: “Just about the time you teach a horse to eat hay, the horse dies.”
  • On Sinegal’s maverick style: “The food court hot dogs will always be $1.50 as long as current management is around.”

P.S. After writing this column, I decided to try the franks. They’re tasty, twice the size of regular hot dogs, and your buck fifty also gets you unlimited refills of a beverage of your choice.