An Interview With Costco Wholesale Corporation (COST) CEO Craig Jelinek

The Fool chats with Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST) CEO Craig Jelinek. Craig first joined the company as a warehouse manager in 1984, quickly rising to become a regional manager and then advancing through various executive posts over the years. He became president and COO in 2010, and took over from longtime CEO Jim Sinegal in January 2012.

Craig shares his experiences with Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST), the philosophy behind the retail giant’s success in the U.S., and its experiences in markets from Canada to Taiwan.

Austin Smith: Hey, Fools, Austin Smith here and I’m joined by Craig Jelinek, the new CEO of Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST). First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us today.

Craig Jelinek: Glad to do it.

Austin: I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but I believe Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST) was the first-ever recommendation in our flagship newsletter, by our CEO, so we have a deep love for the company. We’ve loved Costco for years, so we really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us and our members today.

Jelinek: Well, we appreciate that, and I hope you shop with us also.

Austin: I am a proud Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST) member, and please keep the price of the hotdog and soda at $1.50. I know it hasn’t changed, and I hope that now that you’re at the helm you don’t want to shake it up and make it $1.75.

Jelinek: Trust me, that’s never going to change. If I have to subsidize it personally, it’s not going to change.

Austin: I like that. I’m wondering; obviously a big transition. Now that you’re at the helm, I’m wondering what’s changed for you, as you’re leading this great company forward?

Jelinek: Well, I don’t know that a lot has… Obviously, a lot’s changed because the buck stops with me. But as you know we’ve got Jim was a founder. We’ve got a very strong culture. Most of us have worked with the company in key executive positions for 28-29 years.

I’m very fortunate. Obviously, those are big shoes to fill, but we’ve got a great management team and things have moved on accordingly. Before Jim stepped down, I was president for two years, and we talked about what the future looked like and thought through a game plan, so I think we’re well equipped for the next 15-20 years.

Austin: Obviously, you and Jim worked very closely over the years.

Jelinek: We have.

Austin: You’ve probably learned a lot from each other. What other really great retail executives — or executives in general — have you guys found inspiration from, that you admire in the industry?

Jelinek: Well, I think when you talk about Sol Price, who was the originator or founder of Price Company, and FedMart, one thing that we both learned from him is continue to always do what’s right for your employees and always try to do what’s right for the consumer.

If you keep the consumer and your employees and do the right thing, things have a way of working out for you. You build trust with your employees, you build trust with your consumer — which is really just common sense and good business — but I think that’s probably what we learned the most. Just always do the right thing.

This isn’t rocket science. You just want to continue to bring the value to the consumer. You want to pay good wages, you get good people, treat people fairly, and if you can keep your expenses down, you keep your prices down, you’re going to sell a lot of merchandise and that’s what we do: buy and sell goods.