Inside the career of Costco CEO Craig Jelinek, who's worked with the warehouse club almost since its birth

  • Costco CEO Craig Jelinek has been with the company since 1984.
  • He largely worked his way up through the retailer’s operations division.
  • Jelinek succeeded Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal as CEO in 2012.

Costco CEO Craig Jelinek has been with the warehouse chain since almost the beginning.

The first-ever club bearing the name Costco opened in 1983. Price Club, the company that it eventually merged with, opened in 1976. Jelinek joined Costco in 1984, just months after the first Costco opened. But even then, the longtime retail executive had decades of experience under his belt.

Read more: How Lowe’s CEO Marvin Ellison went from making $US4.35 an hour as a Target security guard to running the second biggest home-improvement retailer in the US

The Puget Sound Business Journal reported that, as of 2018, Jelinek’s annual base salary was $US800,000, while he also earned a $US97,000 bonus, around $US6.3 million in stock awards, and $US214,000 in pension, retirement contributions, life insurance, and company car use.

Here’s a look inside Jelinek’s career:


Jelinek was born in 1952 and grew up in the Los Angeles area.

Sean Pavone/shutterstockLos Angeles.

Source: Marquis Who’s Who


Jelinek’s dad helped build B-1 and B-70 bomber planes for a living. The CEO later told the Seattle Times that his father dissuaded him from going into the aircraft business.

Source: The Seattle Times


The reason? Sales “always depended on the Democrats or the Republicans,” and shifted with every new political regime change, Jelinek told the Seattle Times.

Source: The Seattle Times


Jelinek went on to attend San Diego State University, which was also the alma mater of Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal.

Via Wikimedia CommonsSan Diego State University.

Source: The Seattle Times


In 2010, Costco VP Richard Galanti said that Jelinek had been “around many of the people that started Costco since the very late sixties” during a conference call.

Courtesy of Costco WholesaleCostco in 1983.

Source: Mass Market Retailers via Lexis Nexis


One such early Costco mover and shaker was Sinegal. Jelinek didn’t just attend his alma mater — they also both worked at the retailer FedMart.

Source: Mass Market Retailers via Lexis Nexis


Mass Market Retailers reported that Jelinek took his first job at FedMart in 1969, and he worked there for 12 years.

Source: Mass Market Retailers via Lexis Nexis


Jelinek told the Seattle Times that while he was holding down a part-time job with FedMart, his dad said something that ended up encouraging him to stick with retail.

Source: Seattle Times


“He said, ‘You know what? People will always have to eat,'” Jelinek said. “I never forgot that. You always know there’s going to be work.”

YelpCostco’s produce section.

Source: The Seattle Times


In 1981, Jelinek left FedMart and worked at Lucky Stores for three years.

Dryedmangoez/Wikimedia CommonsA Lucky grocery store.

Source: Mass Market Retailers via Lexis Nexis


Finally, in 1984, Jelinek embarked on his long career at Costco.

Courtesy of Costco WholesaleCostco in the early 1980s.

Source: The Seattle Times, Mass Market Retailers via Lexis Nexis


Jelinek spent most of his time at Costco working in operations, according to Mass Market Retailers.

Source: Mass Market Retailers via Lexis Nexis


He received a major promotion in 2004, when he was named executive vice president of merchandising for the chain.

Trong Nguyen/ShutterstockCostco.

Source: Mass Market Retailers via Lexis Nexis


Jelinek ultimately succeeded Sinegal to take the top spot at Costco in 2012.

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesCostco.

Source: Seattle Times, Mass Market Retailers via Lexis Nexis


“We are excited about Craig’s elevation to his new role,” Jelinek’s predecessor said, according to Mass Market Retailers. “He is a highly seasoned retail executive, with over 25 years’ experience at our company and over 35 years’ experience in the industry.”

YelpCostco.

Source: Mass Market Retailers via Lexis Nexis


For his part, Jelinek has touted Costco’s ways of doing business, telling the Seattle Times: “We just stayed to our principles — it’s what we do, take care of customers and employees and the people who are selling us merchandise.”

Business Insider/Jessica TylerCostco.

Source: The Seattle Times

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