Born on January 1st, 1936 into a Catholic working-class family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, James Wright’s mother placed him in an orphanage. At the age of 11, his mother and her second husband Giuseppe Siniscalli (who later changed his name to Sinegal) adopted him. James took his stepfather’s last name.
James Sinegal attended Helix High School in La Mesa, California and earned an AA at San Diego City College in 1955. He obtained a BA from San Diego State University in 1959.
In 1954, he started working as a bagger at FedMart. Enthused by the opportunities at this rapidly growing retailer, he worked his way up to executive vice-president in charge of merchandising and operations.
From 1977-1978, James Sinegal worked as a vice president of merchandising for Builders Emporium and from 1978-1979 as an executive vice president for the Price Company. From 1979-1983, he worked with Sinegal/Chamberlain and Associates, a company which acted as a broker and sales representative for food and non-food products.
In 1983, James Sinegal together with Seattle retailer Jeff Brotman, co-founded Costco, the well-known discount-warehouse store on Fourth Avenue South in Seattle. James Sinegal said: “… three decades ago, a friend and I had a big idea for a small business: a wholesale store that would provide our members with great products at low prices while treating our employees fairly.”
He also said: “Costco is able to offer lower prices and better values by eliminating virtually all the frills and costs historically associated with conventional wholesalers and retailers, including salespeople, fancy buildings, delivery, and billing and accounts receivable. We run a tight operation with extremely low overhead which enables us to pass on dramatic savings to our members.”
Five years later Costco moved to Kirkland, the origin of its “Kirkland Signature” private label name. Currently based in Issaquah, it has 592 warehouses, 155,000 employees and annual revenues of $78 billion.
In its mix of goods and services Sinegal initiated Costco’s first “warehouse club” to include fresh food, eye-care clinics, pharmacies, and gas stations.
Unlike other major retail chain leaders who delegate subordinates to do the task of inspection of their retail outlets, Sinegal, even though he was the CEO of Costco, traveled every year to all retail locations to inspect them personally.
On January 1st, 2012, President and Chief Operating Officer Craig Jelinek took the reins from James Sinegal as CEO of Costco. Sinegal remains on Costco’s Board of Directors. James Sinegal radiated his quirky blend of humble, sincere and spirited aura when he spoke about his successor:”It’ll be an upgrade. He is well-liked and smart and energetic and all the things that I used to be.”
- James Sinegal (en.wikipedia.org)
- High wages don’t mean low profits – and Costco proves it (current.com)
- How The Costco CEO’s College Job Turned Into His Big Break (businessinsider.com)