It’s about Al Shugart, who at 43, an advanced age to become an entrepreneur, got the courage to do that and then did so much more.
He went from being a buttoned down employee of big companies to an outstanding entrepreneur who dressed in Hawaiian shirts and who even ran his dog for Congress.
Al began his career in 1951 in huge highly structured IBM repairing punch card machines. Over the next 18 years, he rose into management, becoming an expert in computer storage systems.
In 1969 Memorex offered him a vice presidency, more money and most important, would put him in charge of the computer storage side of their company. He said goodbye to IBM.
Under his leadership, Silicon Valley based Memorex thrived in computer storage and Al enjoyed recruiting outstanding talent and making a difference in the marketplace.
And then something else captured his heart. As he watched others in the Silicon Valley start their own firms, Al decided it was time for him to become an entrepreneur, do his own thing and make his fortune.
So in 1973, at the age of 43, Al left Memorex and started Shugart Associates, where he and his team created a lower cost, superior removable floppy disk. After its initial success, in 1974 his investors sold the firm to Xerox and Al who no longer fit in to a structured environment was fired.
Tired of corporate politics, Al packed up and moved down the freeway to Santa Cruz [CA], where with friends, he opened a restaurant and he bought a fishing boat. He also became a consultant for technology companies. This is what he did for the next five years.
But Al missed the excitement of the computer field and in 1979, nearing his 50th birthday, he co-founded Seagate Technology, which would grow into the world’s biggest independent maker of disk drives and related components.
As his firm succeeded, Al made his fortune and he became a household name in the high tech world. He was colorful, creative, sometimes controversial and free to do his own thing.
But life often reshuffles the deck and after 18 years of success, in 1997 during a downturn in the PC industry, Seagate lost money. In 1998, the board of directors fired Al. “Really what the board wanted was for him to name a successor,” recalls Bill Watkins, Seagate’s current CEO.
But Al was no longer used to having others tell him what to do. “He said, ‘fire me, I’m not going to do that,’ recalled Mr. Watkins. And they did.
In the meantime, Al became busy with other compelling projects. Disgusted with the two major political parties, in 1996 he ran his dog Ernest for a seat in Congress. Unfortunately for Al, Ernest didn’t win but the two of them had a great time trying, as Al described in his 1998 book, “Ernest Goes to Washington (Well, Not Exactly)”
Later in 1998, Al started a Friends of Ernest political action committee, called FOEPAC to help fix some of the wrongs he saw in American politics.
In 2000 FOEPAC and Al contributed $1 million dollars in support of a California ballot measure to establish a “none of the above” alternative to allow frustrated voters to reject all of the candidates in state and federal elections.
After a colorful, introspective and at times a laugh filled campaign, it was defeated.
Al, who passed away December 12th at 76, to his final day, enthusiastically lived his life actively involved with people whether face to face, by cell phone or by email. With his former wife, he was the father of five children and a grandfather to seven.
In his latter years, he headed his venture capital firm Al Shugart International and he supported organizations he felt help to make this a better world, such as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).