The untimely death of Jeff Brotman, Costco co-founder and chairman of the board, touches vast expanses of business, philanthropy and public service.
LOOK up the definition of innovation and one would not be surprised to see the smiling face of Jeff Brotman, co-founder and board chairman of Costco, which reinvented retailing.
Brotman, 74, died early Tuesday in his sleep at his home in Medina. He and former CEO Jim Sinegal co-created the membership club for smart shoppers in 1983, with its first Costco warehouse in Seattle.
The corporate model matches the wholesale shopping mode of high-volume, jumbo packages of, well, everything. In the same large-scale spirit, Costco today has 736 stores around the globe, with revenue approaching $119 billion in 2016.
A December profile of Costco in Fortune magazine caught the mood of the now Issaquah-based retail giant: “Costco acts more like a cheerful cult than a hard-driving business.”
Brotman’s personal style and values radiated throughout the company. His ethical leadership set national standards for treatment of employees and proved that companies — retailers especially — could be both successful and generous employers.
He vexed the Wall Street finger-waggers who wanted Costco to quit being so considerate, to cut costs and boost investor appeal still higher. Costco’s reaction was wholesale disregard of the advice.
Brotman’s work ethic is warmly remembered and valued beyond the boardroom. He did more than provide generous support to local medical and cultural venues, and the University of Washington — where he earned his undergraduate and law degrees.
His alumni pride is reinforced with the Costco Scholarship Fund, which has launched thousands of students toward degrees. In addition, UW President Ana Mari Cauce praised the Brotman family support for UW Medicine and development of the South Lake Union Campus.
Brotman was the kind of philanthropist who rolls up his sleeves and does the gritty civic work. Decades after he brought innovations to United Way, and its charitable functions, his accomplishments are still recalled and admired.
Brotman and his wife, Susan, and their family have been a generous, creative presence in the community. They should know that in this time of loss the sympathy of legions of grateful people is with them.