Jim Sinegal on Transitioning Out of the CEO Role

Jim Sinegal is the founder, chairman, and former longtime CEO of Costco (NAS: COST) . During his tenure as chief executive, Sinegal grew Costco from a single warehouse to a now-$39 billion chain.

Last month, The Motley Fool's own founder and CEO, Tom Gardner, ventured to a Costco warehouse in Florida for a conversation with Sinegal on business, leadership, and company culture. In the following clip, Sinegal explains his transition out of the CEO role he held for nearly 30 years. (A transcript is provided below; running time: 1:52.)

Tom Gardner: How do you unplug in an appropriate way after 30 years of leadership and service at Costco?

Jim Sinegal: You have to be very careful. Obviously I want to be a help, and I'm going to help Craig [new CEO Craig Jelinek]. I know how tough the job is, so the last thing in the world I want to do is get into his hair and to disturb what he needs to get done. I don't want to be a hindrance. I want to be an aid to him wherever he needs me, and if he doesn't need me, I think he's probably adult enough to say, "Back off a little bit, Jim." And hopefully I'm mature enough to do that.

Gardner: Why do you call it a tough job?

Sinegal: Well, retail generally is a tough environment. This is not a 40-hour-a-week job; this is a job that not only takes 65 or 70 hours, but even when you're at home you're thinking about it. You're getting phone calls; you're looking at sales. The first thing that happens every morning when I get up is to look for sales, and that's including Sunday and holidays. There's hardly a Sunday that goes by when I don't go out from home and go visit one of two Costcos.

Gardner: So would you say that simultaneously Costco is learning to not rely so fully on your leadership and you're learning to not commit so much of your time? Is that how you're -- or do you think over the next 15 years of your life you'll be doing the same thing -- waking up in the morning and looking at the sales numbers?

Sinegal: The leadership is with Craig. It's his; we've turned the leadership of the company over to Craig, and I'm only here to help in those instances when I can be of assistance.

For more from Tom's interview with Jim Sinegal, click here.

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