Charlie Munger passed away at 99 years old on Tuesday. While he’s known to be Warren Buffett’s longtime investing partner at Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A, BRK-B), he also left quite the mark on Costco (COST).
He first came across the wholesale retailer through Sol Price, founder of Price Club (which later merged with Costco), Munger recounted to the “Acquired” podcast last month. Costco later asked Buffett to sit on the board, but the billionaire declined, sending Munger to the company instead.
Munger then served as a director at Costco from 1997 on, and had been adamant about expressing his love for the brand.
“I love everything about Costco,” Munger said during The Daily Journal’s annual shareholder meeting back in February, “I’m a total addict, and I’m never going to sell a share.”
Berkshire Hathaway exited its stake in Costco in late 2020 after selling 4.3 million shares, but Munger retained a personal stake in the company.
As of October, Munger owned 167,615 shares of Costco personally, and had another 19,565 shares held in his charitable foundation, the Alfred C. Munger Foundation.
This brings the value of his total stake in the company to over $111 million as of Tuesday’s close.
“Charlie Munger will be missed, but Costco has a long history of operating a consistent business based on providing terrific value to its members. This should not change in any way following the passing of Mr. Munger,” said Joe Feldman, senior managing director of Telsey Advisory Group.
Munger was still praising Costco recently, pointing out that Home Depot copied its playbook of going for volume.
“Well, [Costco] really did sell cheaper than anybody else in America and they did it in big efficient stores,” he explained on “Acquired.” “They kept out of their stores all these people who didn’t do big volumes … They gave special benefits to the people who did come to the stores in the way of reward points. It all worked.”
The wholesaler also went with a capital light model, waiting to pay suppliers only after they’ve scheduled the sales of goods. Meanwhile, Walmart hasn’t been able to crack into the company’s demographic of well-off suburban shoppers.
“They got into the habit of getting real estate for practically nothing, because they went into towns where nothing is valuable … So it offended them to go against the rich suburbs and having to pay for the good locations,” Munger said of Walmart.
“Costco just specializes in the good locations, where the rich people lived. And Walmart just let them do it year after year. It was just a terrible mistake.”
He admitted, though, that buying Costco now, given the recent price increase, is “getting hard” but still liked the investment for the next 10 years.
In the last five years, shares of Costco are up nearly 157%. In 1997, shares were around $15, and now sit at $594 per share as of Tuesday’s close.
Munger’s Costco holding is only second to that of Costco CEO Craig Jelinek, who owned 339,311 shares as of October. Jelinek will be stepping down on Jan. 1, 2024, and handing the reins to current chief operating officer Ron Vachris.
Last year, Jelinek told Yahoo Finance that Munger has been a huge asset to the company through the years — and not just because of his famed quick wit.
“I could share many stories with Charlie,” Jelinek told Yahoo Finance Live. “Charlie’s got a photographic memory.”
Costco shareholders even have Munger to thank for its international expansion. Munger said the board started to push the company to get into China, which it did in 2019. It now has five locations in the country.
The wholesaler wasn’t the only brand that Munger left a lasting impression on.
Jim Weber, CEO of Berkshire-owned Brooks Running, told Yahoo Finance, “What a milestone for Berkshire to lose Charlie at 99. For me he was wisdom personified.”
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