The Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ: COST) brand is familiar to most Americans. The company is famous for its comparatively low prices on name-brand products sold in large packages and its $1.50 hot dogs. The company makes most of its profit from the sale of more than 81 million annual memberships, while turning only a small profit from product sales. Costco is one of the world’s largest retailers, finishing second behind only Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT). Costco's 690 warehouse stores generated revenue of $162.2 billion in 2015.
Costco has been good to investors, with a return of more than 240% since 2009. The company’s more than 117,000 employees, through the employee stock ownership (ESOP) program within the company’s 401(k) plan, own 4.39% of Costco’s stock. Employees also have access to an employee stock participation plan (ESPP) that allows them to make commission-free purchases outside the retirement plan. Institutional investors own 74% of outstanding shares, with insiders and related parties owning less than 2%. The five largest reported individual shareholders are all company insiders.
James D. Sinegal
James D. Sinegal is a co-founder of Costco. He served as chief operating officer (COO) from 1983 to 1993, president from 1993 to 2010 and chief executive officer (CEO) from 1988 to 2012. Sinegal is still a consultant to the company and serves as a director.
Sinegal is known for his hands-on colorful approach to management. He has visited every store to meet and speak with employees, looking for ideas to improve the Costco experience. He is famous for battling pressure from Wall Street analysts to reduce employee benefits as a way to reduce costs. Mr. Sinegal took the approach that he was building a 50-year company for all stakeholders, not just stockholders. He built a model company that serves customers and employees, while also providing good returns to investors.
James Sinegal owned 804,419 shares of common stock worth $121.4 million as of May 2016. This equates to 0.18% of Costco’s outstanding shares. He has been reducing his holdings slowly, though he continues to receive new shares as part of his director’s compensation package.
Jeffrey H. Brotman
Jeffrey H. Brotman is the second and least well-known co-founder of Costco, while being equally responsible for the company’s success. Brotman has been a corporate director since the company’s inception in 1983. He served as chairman of the board from 1983 to 1993, and from 1994 to present.
Brotman owned 100,408 of common stock directly and an additional 395,495 shares indirectly as of May 2016. His total stake is worth $74.8 million and represents 0.11% of outstanding shares. He continues to receive restricted stock grants as part of his compensation package as chairman of the board.
W. Craig Jelinek
W. Craig Jelinek started his career at Costco in 1984 as a warehouse manager. Mr. Jelinek rose up through the ranks to become president and COO in 2010. He became CEO in 2012 and is leading Costco into an era of overseas expansion. Like his predecessor, James Sinegal, he believes that treating customers and employees with respect leads to greater corporate profitability. He is a big fan of Costco’s $1.50 hot dog.
As of May 2016, Jelinek owned 270,918 shares of stock worth $40.9 million, which equals a stake of 0.06%. His compensation plan includes stock options and restricted stock awards.
Charles T. Munger
Charles T. Munger is an independent director of Costco. Mr. Munger is best known as a partner to Warren Buffet and as vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A). As of May 2016, he owned 159,654 Costco shares worth $24.1 million, representing a 0.4% stake in the company.
Costco is also a favored stock of Warren Buffett, and he included it in one of his annual letters to shareholders. Mr. Buffet owns no shares directly, but Berkshire Hathaway has been a long-term investor in Costco. The company owned a 1% stake worth more than $650,000,000 as of March 30, 2016.
Richard M. Libenson
Richard M. Libenson is a corporate director and a consultant to Costco. Like Sinegal and Brotman, Libenson is a disciple of Sol Price, the founder of Price Club. He served as an executive officer of The Price Company from 1976 to 1989 and a director from 1976 to 1993. He has been a director at Costco since 1993.
Mr. Libenson owned 7,442 shares directly and 94,805 shares indirectly as of May 2016. The position is valued at $15.4 million and represents a 0.02% stake in the company.