Mike Chieco ’19
Internship place and location: Costco Wholesale Corporation, Seattle, Washington
Hometown: Greenwich, Connecticut
Joint degree: Jackson Institute for Global Affairs
Favorite Yale SOM class: Building a Business in a Failed State
The goal of my internship was extremely broad: to understand how Costco operates, what makes Costco unique among retailers, and how the culture of Costco is built and maintained. Prior to coming to SOM I spent two years in Nairobi, Kenya, operating a chain of restaurant and retail stores. During my time there I saw how difficult culture can be to get right. I sought out an internship at Costco because I had heard that the “special sauce” of Costco was its unique culture.
To understand the culture and operations I spent the majority of my time at Costco in the heart of the enterprise: the store. I rotated through the various store departments, from merchandising, where I started at 4 a.m. driving a pallet jack and stacking boxes, to ancillaries such as the tire shop and meat departments, to the administration and management of the warehouse. In each area I shadowed the managers, learned the basics of operations, and came to understand how the day-to-day activities fit into the overall picture of the company. In addition to working in the store, I spent time every week interviewing and meeting with executives at the corporate office, including weekly meetings with the Northwest region COO. By combining the time in the warehouse and the time at corporate, I was able to understand how the on-the-ground reality in the warehouse reflected the larger corporate strategy of Costco and how the corporate management decisions were reached and implemented within the store.
This internship was unique in that it was focused much less on what I could do for Costco and more for what I could learn while I was there. To that point, my biggest task was to observe and understand the culture. At the end of the summer I presented my findings on the culture and a list of opportunities to better align what I was seeing in the store to the Costco culture and corporate strategy to key executive leaders. In addition, I helped managers at the store level create tools and processes to better manage their respective departments.
I was given free rein to talk to executives within the company. On my first day I met the founder and former CEO of Costco, Jim Sinegal, and heard about his time at Costco and his daughter’s connection to East Africa. Throughout the summer I met with a variety of executives to understand the various facets of the Costco business. Some of the most interesting conversations came in talking to the buying teams who search the world for the best possible products for Costco members. I heard about the search for the perfect coconut oil, the convoluted process to bring dog flea medications to the store, and the challenges of buying enough poultry for a company of Costco’s size. The networking opportunities allowed me to gain a 360-degree perspective of the Costco business and understand how the culture established by Jim Sinegal in 1983 continues to live on throughout the entire organization.
This was a very non-traditional summer MBA internship. Despite being one of the largest retailers in the world, Costco does not have a formal MBA summer internship program and had little in the way of formal structure I could draw upon. That being said, I was given an incredible opportunity to truly explore the entire company, ask hard questions about the business, and learn as much as I could about my favorite retailer. I came away from the summer with one of my big pre-MBA questions answered, detailed knowledge about how to operate and manage a warehouse club, and a deep appreciation of the Costco culture, the value Costco adds to their members, and the people who truly make it a special place.