James D. Sinegal, president and CEO of Costco Wholesale Corporation, received the 2006 Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics at the fourth annual Social Enterprise Conference last week. The award recognizes an outstanding leader who exhibits the highest standard of ethical conduct in business or the professions.
300 students, alumni, academics and business professionals — a record number — gathered together for the sold-out October 6 conference, which had as its theme, “Raising the Bar.” Participants explored innovative ways to create sustainable value for society across sectors, discussing global health, corporate social responsibility, renewable energy and private equity in emerging markets, among other topics. Sinegal gave the keynote address.
“Jim fuses private enterprise and social enterprise in the running of Costco,” said Ray Horton, director of the Social Enterprise Program and the Frank R. Lautenberg Professor of Ethics and Corporate Governance. “He runs his business in an exceptionally socially responsible way.”
Sinegal and his business partner, Jeff Brotman, founded Costco in 1983. Today, the company has 488 warehouses in 37 states and eight countries. It sells groceries, electronics, diamonds and even caskets, among many other goods and services, and is the largest wine merchant in the world. Surprisingly, Costco has achieved its success without a PR department.
“We have a mission to constantly strive to bring goods and services to the markets at the lowest possible price,” said Senegal. “We cut the cost out of everything and we take care of our employees.” The company’s code of ethics calls for taking care of customers, suppliers and shareholders as well as employees.
Conference panelists included Thomas Barry, president and CEO of Zephyr Management; Peter Bennett ’67, chairman and CEO of Liberty Partners; Patricia Duquette, director of the women’s health and global HIV/AIDS initiative at the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation; and Kate Taylor, senior director for policy and advocacy at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.
Students in the Social Enterprise Club and the International Development Club organized the event, with support from the Social Enterprise Program and the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership and Ethics. The center, founded in May 2003, is an integral part of the School’s Individual, Business and Society Curriculum, which emphasizes a commitment to leadership and ethics through core courses, extracurricular activities and research.