Costco's International Challenge

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, Sinegal co-founded Costco and served as president and CEO of the retail giant from 1983 until his retirement in January 2012.

In the following video, Sinegal discusses the challenges of managing stores around the globe, and how to prioritize to make the most of international travel.

To watch the full interview, click here.

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Brendan Byrnes: When you first started expanding internationally, obviously it's a much farther plane ride to Japan, to Taiwan, than it is a couple hours down to California. Did your management style change when it got more decentralized? How did you go about thinking about that?

Jim Sinegal: Well, it's an emotional tug-of-war here. We want to be in these places, frequently, and yet we recognize that it takes 15 hours to get to Australia. That's not a day trip. You're going over there, you've got to make a commitment to be there, so we try to tie a lot of things together when we're there.

We're going to be looking at different sites. We're going to visit our locations. We're going to go for a grand opening this summer. You try to manage your time much better.

One of the things we do when we go to Australia, as an example, is we stop to refuel in Hawaii so we can visit the Hawaii locations while they're refueling, then head on down to Australia. You learn how to schedule your time and prioritize.

But it is more difficult, there is no question. You're not going to get into all of the -- every single day that I'm in town I'm across the street, much to the chagrin of the people across the street, but we're over there all the time, and working with them.

Every warehouse in the company is not going to get that type of attention. You can't expect it. But recognizing those places you haven't been for a long time, making sure that when you go someplace you get the best mileage out of that trip.

[Current Costco CEO Craig Jelinek] and I went to Chicago here, a couple weeks ago. I was going because I was going to speak at Northwestern, at the Kellogg School.

We made sure that we scheduled the trip so that we got in there, we got around to about eight to 10 of our places while we were there, as opposed to just going to Chicago and coming back. You've got to take advantage of the fact that you've just invested eight hours of traveling -- four going and four coming back -- and get the most out of it.


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