In a place for members only, Costco’s co-founder is remembered for his inclusivity.
“The founders are known for walking through the stores and knowing the employees by name,” former WA Governor Gary Locke said.
The co-founder and chairman of Costco, Jeff Brotman, passed away early Tuesday at the age of 74.
"The thoughts of Costco's board, management and employees are with Jeff's wife and family," the company said in a release.
Brotman was born in September 1942. He co-founded Costco with Jim Sinegal in 1983, opening the first location in Seattle. Both are credited for revolutionizing the way we shop and the way companies treat employees.
“I think Costco was a trendsetter not only in the Puget Sound area, but all across the country. Because so many companies in the Puget Sound area are offering full health benefits for even part time employees, offering scholarship and financial aid so the employees can go on to college. I think it all started in many ways with Costco,” Locke said, explaining the top managers were also known for taking millions less in base salaries than CEOs at other large companies.
The company originally started seven years earlier as Price Club in San Diego. The two retailers merged in 1993.
Currently, Costco has 736 wholesale warehouses, including 511 in the United States and at least 10 in Western Washington. Locke says Brotman was looking forward to the company’s next foray into China.
Locke saw Brotman a few weeks ago and he seemed in perfect health.
“I mean, no hint. This comes as a huge shock and people are just so saddened by this sudden news,” Locke said.
The cause of death is unknown at this point, but sources close to him say it happened while he was sleeping in his Medina home.
“Jeff was effervescent, bubbly. He liked people. He was smart. He liked to think about issues. He was compassionate,” Jon Fine said.
United Way of King County’s CEO says Brotman was his mentor. The nonprofit’s chair in the late nineties, Brotman shaped the charity’s identity with a simple philosophy:
“You can make a big difference while you're having fun. He was wonderful,” Fine said.
An alumnus of the University of Washington, Brotman was active in the UW community, serving on several boards and initiatives, including the launch of the Costco Scholarship Fund.
"As we remember Jeff, we will rededicate ourselves to his long-held belief in social justice and equity," UW President Ana Mari Cauce said in a statement. "His generosity is a model for what it means to give back to your community and to provide opportunities for all, and for that we are forever grateful."
Fine, however, says there was at least one issue Brotman hoped to make more of an impact on before his final breath.
“He was not satisfied with what we're doing with homelessness,” Fine said, adding, “it doesn't mean we're not trying hard, but he thought we could and should do better.”
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