Costco Co-Founder Jim Sinegal on Leaders He Admires

Join The Motley Fool for a conversation with retired Costco CEO Jim Sinegal. In love with retail since his first job as a bagger in 1954, Jim co-founded Costco and served as president and CEO of the retail giant from 1983 until his retirement in January 2012.

Jim shares his thoughts on executives to admire -- Warren Buffett, Tony James, Steve Jobs, and others -- and the importance of passion in business leadership.

To watch the entire interview, click here.

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Brendan Byrnes: One of the things that we love at The Motley Fool is strong leadership, great management. We actually name all our conference rooms after different leaders that we admire. You actually have one at our headquarters.

Could you maybe give us a couple other business leaders that you admire, and why, and what they do right?

Jim Sinegal: Well, sure. I'm going to give you the obvious answers, because they're the people that pop into my mind immediately. You admire different people for different reasons, but Warren Buffett clearly just jumps right off the page there, and his partner, Charlie Munger, who's on our board.

But Tony James, who is also on our board, is somebody who I admire greatly. I really have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I had an enormous amount of respect for Steve Jobs. The genius there was just incredible, and to see that, see the performance there, was really something.

There are lots of very significant people out there who do great jobs. I don't know Frank Blake at Home Depot, but I sure like the numbers that I'm seeing out of that business, and that was a turnaround situation. That was a company that had started to slide a little bit. I think he's not only done a good job, but you can generally tell when people talk well about the boss, that something is going right there.

Brendan: What do you think are some common traits or characteristics that these CEOs have? Maybe an investor out there is looking at a lesser-known CEO and they want to say, "Hey, what are some great CEOs? What kind of traits do they have that you can emulate and look for in a company that might have a great leader?"

Sinegal: It's always the same thing. Obviously any manager that we look for, we're always looking for somebody who's smart and who's hard-working. But the thing that really stands out in most instances is the passion.

If you don't have somebody who is passionate about the business, no matter how smart and how creative and how diligent and how much money they have, if they don't have the passion for the business you're not going to see the business driving in the right direction, in my view.

I would always look for that. You want those other traits, clearly, but you need someone... Jamie Dimon is another guy who I think is a really good manager. I know he's gone through a little bit of a hassle there, but he seems to have come through it pretty well.

Brendan: I think he's on the other side of that now.

Sinegal: I think he's an extraordinarily bright guy.


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