As a kid growing up in Atlanta, Richard Galanti spent a lot of time in retail stores. His father and three uncles each owned a store, and he worked for them stocking shelves, pricing and selling items. That may seem a far cry from serving as finance chief at Costco, the big-box retailer with $71.4 billion of revenue in 2009. But Galanti, who has worked at Costco for 27 years, is no ordinary CFO. "I'm also head of HR," he explains, "and I also get involved in the retail business, at least from 10,000 feet."

Galanti came to Costco with another valuable piece of experience: five years as an investment banker at Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette, now a part of Credit Suisse. In 1983, DLJ handled a $16.9 million mezzanine financing for Costco. The company immediately drafted Galanti, who handled that financing, as its CFO. "They thought I knew what to do," he laughs. A decade later, Galanti added the human resources title, giving him a dual portfolio that he thinks may be unique for a Fortune 500 CFO.

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