Few paid attention to Jim Sinegal’s speech at the convention. The convention hall could hardly muster much applause for the Costco co-founder, whose delivery was far more subdued than most of the 10 o’clock hour’s luminaries. MSNBC cut away to jabber on about other speeches. The Twitterati made jokes. (“Why isn’t the CEO of Costco speaking into a bulk package of 24 microphones in shrinkwrap?”)
It’s too bad.
Not because Sinegal’s speech was in any way an exercise in profound oratory. But because here was the voice of a corporate executive who has practiced business the way most Americans—Democrat or Republican—can respect. He built a wildly successful company that is now the country’s fifth largest retailer from the ground up. He paid his people well and offered them very good health insurance, both rarities in retail jobs. His salary (before bonus and stock grants) in his last year as CEO was just $350,000, about a third of the average for companies of his size. And he treats his customers with respect, limiting markups on the bulk goods his store sells to the point that he has frustrated investors who felt he could charge more.
It’s also too bad because Sinegal was a credible voice in the rebuttal to the Republicans’ obsession with Obama’s inartful “you didn’t build that” comment.
“And that’s why I’m here, supporting President Obama, a president making an economy built to last,” Sinegal said in his prepared remarks. “See, in order for companies like Costco to invest, grow, hire and flourish, the conditions have to be right. That requires something from all of us.” And later: “here’s the thing about the Costco story: We did not build our company in a vacuum.”
Corporate America may be largely backing Mitt Romney. But Jim Sinegal was the (though recently retired) CEO of perhaps the largest company to stand on either convention stage. The muted response to his speech, I’ll guess, is not going to spark much of a blue state/red state shopping divide in his stores, though that he certainly risked that by taking the stage. But it was notable to see such a successful—and no doubt, respected—business leader throw his support behind the president.
You can read Sinegal’s speech here:
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