Wanna know why I don’t trust Bruce Lisman? Here’s why.
Today’s New York Times features an article about Costco, the rapidly-growing wholesale chain. It’s a great success story, with a merchant finding a new niche (quality goods at bargain prices with no frills) and filling it expertly. The company is now the fifth-largest retailer in America. Its stock price is high and rising; a share of Costco stock sells for 23 times expected earnings, compared to WalMart’s 19.
But the wise guys of Wall Street are not pleased:
Some Wall Street analysts assert that Mr. Sinegal is overly generous not only to Costco’s customers but to its workers as well.
Costco’s average pay, for example, is $17 an hour, 42 percent higher than its fiercest rival, Sam’s Club. And Costco’s health plan makes those at many other retailers look Scroogish. One analyst, Bill Dreher of Deutsche Bank, complained last year that at Costco “it’s better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder.”
Christ, what an asshole. “The workers are getting too much of OUR money, waah waah waah.”
After the jump: Costco’s CEO answers, and Wall Street foams at the mouth.
Jay Sinegal, Costco founder and CEO, insists that offering a living wage (cough) and generous benefits is actually beneficial for the bottom line: the company has a very high worker retention rate, and a very low theft rate. But obviously he’s not playing Wall Street’s game, and the Street smarks don’t like it one bit.
Costco also tries to deal fairly with its customers, which (if you believe Sinegal) is the secret to Costco’s success, or (if you believe Wall Street) amounts to theft from investors.
At Costco, one of Mr. Sinegal’s cardinal rules is that no branded item can be marked up by more than 14 percent, and no private-label item by more than 15 percent. In contrast, supermarkets generally mark up merchandise by 25 percent, and department stores by 50 percent or more.
“They could probably get more money for a lot of items they sell,” said Ed Weller, a retailing analyst at ThinkEquity.
“What’s wrong with the guy?” you can imagine Weller thinking. “He’s not screwing the public out of every last dollar!”
Sinegal also refuses to play another game dear to the heart of the one-percenters:
Despite Costco’s impressive record, Mr. Sinegal’s salary is just $350,000, although he also received a $200,000 bonus last year…
“I’ve been very well rewarded,” said Mr. Sinegal, who is worth more than $150 million thanks to his Costco stock holdings. …”Having an individual who is making 100 or 200 or 300 times more than the average person working on the floor is wrong.”
So let’s see. You have a very successful company, making good profits for its shareholders. Its stock price is healthy, reflecting investor confidence. But HE’S NOT PLAYING THE GAME, and he’s making it clear that you can be a successful business without resorting to Mitt Romney-style vulture capitalism, and you can make a profit while also making customers, workers, and investors happy. And you don’t have to pay your top executives like members of the Saudi royal family.
Do you think we could arrange for another, precisely-targeted hurricane to hit New York? This time, don’t hit Sandy Point or Red Hook or Staten Island — just wash Wall Street out to sea. I think our society AND our economy would be better as a result.