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Al Shugart, hard-drive pioneer, dies at 76

The founder of hard-drive maker Seagate was one of the pioneers, and one of the regular guys, of the tech industry.

Al Shugart--the man who founded Seagate Technology, convinced his pet dog to run for public office, and favored Hawaiian shirts over business suits--has died at age 76.

The California native passed away at a hospital from heart failure Tuesday, a Seagate representative said.

Al Shugart
Al Shugart

Shugart played an integral role in the development of the hard-drive industry. He was part of the original team of engineers at IBM that developed the first hard-drive storage system, which came out 50 years ago this year.

He then held several different positions in the industry before founding Seagate in 1979. The company went on to become a dominant force in the hard-drive industry. It is, in fact, the largest hard-drive manufacturer, and it is consistently profitable. Shugart left the company in 1998.

"It's really impossible to look at modern business, society, communications, science, music, entertainment or anything else without seeing the power and impact of Al's legacy," Seagate CEO Bill Watkins said in a statement. "Al's unique spirit made him a remarkable entrepreneur. And it also made him an unforgettable human being. Stories about Al and the many ways he touched people still circulate around the industry. Most will remember him as a man who loved to enjoy life and encouraged everyone he touched to do the same."

As Watkins noted, Shugart was well-known for his jovial, somewhat rowdy, personality. He often liked to say that his real goal in life was to have fun. He ran his dog Ernest for Congress (the dog lost) and owned a restaurant.

"When I got fired from Seagate, I had a few investments, but I thought of doing PR in exchange for equity," a Hawaiian shirt-clad Shugart said in a 1999 interview at Comdex to discuss a small venture fund he had launched.

One thing he wasn't was an efficient corporate manager. For years, Seagate struggled--like almost all disk makers--with turning a consistent profit. One of the chief problems was that there were too many competitors in the field. Seagate eventually acquired rival Connor Peripherals.

Seagate, though, was also saddled with a somewhat antagonistic culture. Watkins, who came from Connor, recalled recently his first executive meeting at Seagate. The executives swore constantly at each other for about six hours and got almost nothing got done.

Greg Quick, a reporter who has covered technology for about two decades, recalled his encounter with Shugart in an article on the drive industry in 2004.

"In my only Shugart interview, he took his shoes off in the middle of it and put them on the table. Then he sent his limo driver out for a huge sack of McDonald's," Quick wrote.