The King of Disk Drives

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There will be lots of stories remembering Al Shugart as “Uncle Al”; these stories will be filled with love and fun, and lots of good laughter. They will portrait Al as a good natured loving mentor and an unconventional industry maverick, but there was so much more to this man.

We also have to remember that it wasn’t just the love and fun that brought Al Shugart to the absolute top of the computer industry. Al was a fearless leader, very, very smart, with a deep understanding of the storage industry and the needs of its customers. He created a company that took the number one position from IBM in the eighties and maintained that ever since. In the fiercely competitive storage market that must mean something. Anyone worth its grain of salt in storage wanted to work for Al, as he would seriously invest in you to make you grow. Al strongly believed in roaming the engineer’s workspaces to keep in contact with the real world. Many Seagate customers still carry his personal phone number to “call any time with any question”. In the end there was the “revenge of the MBA’s” and Seagate was streamlined into a fast and efficient production machine, with Al looking on from afar.

From his autobiography, when discussion his advise to leave your car radio off while commuting, such that you would have some time to think:

Everybody needs thinking time. It helps balance your life. That’s one reason I don’t carry a laptop computer. When I go on trips it’s depressing to see everybody in the first-class sectionpecking away at their keyboards, searching obsessively for that last little kernel of information. They remind me of chickens in a barnyard scurrying after chicken feed
“What are you doing?”
“I’m checking my email.”
Right. As though that e-mail won’t be waiting for you when you get to your hotel. It’s sick. Why not relax in your seat, have a glass of wine and think.
Thinking is one of the great pleasures of being human and despite the fears of some futurists it won’t be usurped by computers. They are machines, that’s all. Good at mechanical tasks, but devoid of emotion. As a wise person once said: “asking if a computer can think is like asking if a submarine can swim”.

Al published 3 books: one autobiography, one about his attempt to let his dog run for congress (he hated bureaucracy) and one about his restaurant adventure with Piere Bain.

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