I’m going to miss Al Shugart for so many reasons.
He was a hard-driven father of the hard drive. He was an idiosyncratic CEO. The kind of guy who could tell a story or speak his mind without much concern at all about what you might think of him.
And he died today.
He wore Hawaiian shirts and ran his dog, Ernest, for Congress.
He wrote a book about it. When he decided he wanted to write a comic
strip about ineptitude in Washington D.C., he talked a young artist
into drawing the pictures to go with it.
Forget all the goofy Silicon Valley slides between corporate campus floors. Or Grateful Dead chefs at Google. Forget the CEOs in flip-flops and the Segway-riding software billionaires.
You want the original Silicon Valley character, it was Shugart. (OK, there are other potential nominees here. Feel free to chime in.)
But as a reporter, what I liked about him most was his candor. Eight years ago, I called Shugart’s home on what might have been the worst day of his professional life.
He came to the phone and chatted generously and candidly. He was insightful and funny. I wrote a column that I’ll paste at the end of this.
Al Shugart was a Silicon Valley chief executive that I’m truly grateful for having known. How many can you say that about?
I’d love to hear your memories.
Here’s that 1998 column:
EVEN ICONS ARE DISPOSABLE IN SILICON VALLEY’S COLD WORLD
Published: Wednesday, July 22, 1998 Edition: Morning Final Section: Front Page: 16A
Memo: Silicon Valley Dispatches
Source: MIKE CASSIDY column
IT’S never been much of a guessing game where Al Shugart is involved. So, we know he’s insulted, disappointed and somewhat hacked off. He’s also out of work.
‘’I just can’t hold a job,'’ he says.He’s a pretty funny guy. So funny that he can crack jokes the day Seagate Technology told the world he was out as CEO.Such events remind us how cold a place Silicon Valley can be. It’s wise to remember that everyone is disposable, even the icons who built the place.There are not many characters like him left in the Silicon Valley story. He dressed for his top job like a favorite uncle dresses for Friday dinner: short-sleeve shirts, open collars, casual slacks. He ran his dog for Congress to make a point that government is ineffective.
CEOs today carefully craft images. They do photo shoots with famous photographers. Top company officers have spokespersons for their spokespersons. Not Al.
On Tuesday he returned his own calls.
‘’I'm fired as an employee,'’ said Shugart, 67, who co-founded the company in 1979. ‘’I'm fired as CEO. I’m fired as chairman of the board.'’
Sometimes it’s hard to feel sorry for the rich, the powerful. But sometimes, and with some people, it’s not so hard. It’s particularly not so hard when you’re dealing with a genuine article.
Getting canned hurts. Shugart insisted he isn’t sure why he was dumped and that he had no clue the end was near. No clue, until Larry Sonsini, of Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati, called Friday and said they should talk about some decisions his fellow board members had made. It’s one of those calls that you know isn’t good news.
Still, Shugart told Sonsini, an attorney for the Seagate board, that he was too busy to meet that day. Sonsini said he’d drive down to Shugart’s Pebble Beach home over the weekend.
Shugart didn’t sleep well Friday. Did the board majority want him to resign as CEO and just handle chairman duties? Did they have a major reorganization in mind?
His worst case scenario had to be losing his job, right?
‘’The worst case was that they put a contract out on me,'’ he said.
So, 9 a.m. Saturday there’s Sonsini at his door with the news that Shugart was out.
‘’I said, ‘Well, we better have a board meeting then, because I’m not resigning.'’
No, Shugart isn’t a quitter. So a conference call was scheduled for Sunday. Shugart and his wife, Rita, were busy Saturday.
After Sonsini left, the couple flew to Southern California to attend Rita’s youngest daughter’s engagement party. It was quite a gala, luminaries and all.
‘’We were not really in the best shape for cocktail partying and conversation and so forth,'’ he said. ‘’All the kids got concerned.'’
They wondered if he was sick. He couldn’t tell them the news. It wasn’t official.
‘’Saturday night was really the worst night.'’
Shugart may come back in technology. But for now, he says, he’s content to work on his investments and three books he is writing. Two are on management. The third is an autobiography.
‘’We got the closing chapter of that one today.'’ It was a joke.
See, Shugart is a pretty funny guy.