Not many people can say that they have designed a computer; contributed significantly to the design and development of the hard drives now used in PCs; started at least three companies; managed venture funds for startup technology companies; and owned and operated a bar, a commercial fishing boat, and a PR firm. Al Shugart has done all of those things. He even planned to build a restaurant, but he got busy with a few other projects and sold the property.
Today, as head of Al Shugart Inter-national, he manages two venture funds. Shugart had to close the PR firm and lay off a bunch of people last year, but he's still looking for new investment opportunities. There are certain requirements. "It has to be interesting, or we don't want to get involved," he says. "We have to like the people, and it has to be a young company."
Shugart says that he probably has invested in too many software companies and not enough hardware companies. "We like tangible things," he says. What technologies catch his attention today? Biometrics. "Things that are going to help your health. That interests me more than computer things."
He joined IBM the day after he graduated from college, eventually designing its RAMAC (Random Access Method of Accounting) system. Only about 5000 were sold, but the hard drives went on to greater success in other IBM products. IBM moved him to a new R&D facility in San Jose, where Memorex quickly hired him. He didn't stay there long before starting Shugart Associates to develop floppy drives. That lasted two years. Next stop was the bar and fishing boat in Santa Cruz. "In '79, I married my second wife, and I was broke, so I had to go back to work," he recalls.
At Memorex, Shugart met Finis Connor, who had a great idea. People were beginning to buy a lot of PCs with several minifloppies because they needed the storage. Connor thought, why not build a hard drive the same size as the floppies with 15 times the capacity? To realize the goal, they started a new company and called it Shugart Technology. Xerox had acquired Shugart Associates and fearing that Xerox would sue them over the name, Shugart renamed his new company Seagate Technology. It went on to build hundreds of thousands of hard drives, mostly for IBM.
As for the professional accomplishment he's most proud of, Shugart says, "I think I've been a success with people, providing jobs and ethics training," he says. "I've hired and paid a lot of people all over the world. They learned a lot. Technology? I did some things there, too. But when I look back, I think what I have done best is what I have done with people."