An Interview with Al Shugart
Photo of Al Shugart

Interview by Jill Wolfson, San Jose Mercury News; and Bruce Phebus Archbishop Mitty High School

Interview photos by Len Lahman, San Jose Mercury News

Transcribed by Jean Ricket, Tech Museum volunteer


Bruce Phebus

In 1951, the day after finishing college, Al Shugart joined IBM and ten years later, he was instrumental in the development of IBM's 305 RAMAC, the precursor to today's hard drives. In 1969, Shugart left Big Blue for Memorex and then launched Shugart Associates, one of the pioneers of the floppy disk.

In 1974, ousted from the company he founded, Shugart spent some time in a decidedly lower tech profession: he opened a bar with some friends and bought a salmon-fishing boat to work as a commercial fisherman.

Five years later, he was back in business when he and several associates formed Seagate Technology, headquartered in Scotts Valley, for the purpose of developing small hard drives for the PCs then coming into the market.

Today, Shugart is president and CEO of the multi-billion dollar company which is a leader in the design, manufacture and marketing of data storage products and components for the computer systems and data technology industries. With more than 100,000 employees nationwide, Seagate boasts the largest unit volume and revenue share in the hard disk drive industry.

Along the way, Shugart has also launched several other business ventures, including a southern European countrystyle restaurant in Pacific Grove; an air charter service in Monterey, a publishing house which published "75 Light Bulb Jokes" and an upscale women's clothing store. He spoke with writer Jill Wolfson and student Bruce Phebus.

Wolfson :   I read that you didn't have a particularly smooth childhood. Your parents were divorced and didn't have a lot of money. You were born with a club foot. What do you remember most about your childhood, and how do you feel that has affected you and influenced you as an adult?
Shugart :   I think my childhood was very smooth.

I don't know where you got the idea that it wasn't smooth. The fact that I was raised by my mother and didn't have a father, that happened when I was 3 years old. No, I had a pretty smooth childhood. No complaints at all.

Wolfson: OK then. What do you remember most about your smooth childhood?

Shugart: Freedom. My mother worked and I got to do whatever I wanted to do -- as long as I got good grades.

Wolfson :   You are known for having strong feelings about education and what's going on in the schools today. Could you address that?
Shugart :   My feeling is that we're not attacking it properly at all. Kids gotta learn how to read and write.

And they're not learning that any more. They're learning all kinds of junk stuff. They gotta learn how to read and write, learn how to communicate, and learn how to be computer literate. Beyond that, they ought to do what they like to do.


Whatever they're teaching -- social studies and all that kind of stuff. It's not that you shouldn't take that. But you shouldn't be concentrating on it until you learn how to read and write.
Phebus :   Could you explain the "junk stuff"?
Shugart :   Whatever they're teaching -- social studies and all that kind of stuff. It's not that you shouldn't take that. But you shouldn't be concentrating on it until you learn how to read and write. And if you don't like social studies, you shouldn't take social studies. If you don't like history, you shouldn't take history. Do things you like once you learn how to communicate. And become computer literate.

Wolfson: So if you were advising students, you would say that you don't see the use of a broad education? You suggest gearing toward a specific?

Shugart: No. Absolutely not. I'm talking about a broad education, but my definition of broad is to do something you like. Take things you like. Don't take things just because somebody is trying to fit you into a mold. After you learn how to communicate and become computer literate. No, I'm not suggesting that it's narrow at all. I think it's really very broad.


I don't think we pay our teachers enough. I think there are too many rules and regulations associated with the schools that are inhibiting to scholarship.
Wolfson :   What do you think is preventing, holding back students from becoming computer literate?
Shugart :   Well, I don't know. The education system, I guess. I don't think we pay our teachers enough. I think there are too many rules and regulations associated with the schools that are inhibiting to scholarship.Too many rules and regulations and not enough guidelines.

The system does not encourage participation from non-career educators.

I don't think that we're using our teachers well. I don't think we're using our educated non-teachers who would like to help. There's a lot of very bright people in the community who should be helping at schools, would love to help at schools, and there's no way for them to do it.

Phebus :   What is stopping them?
Shugart :   The system. Suppose I decided I wanted to go help at Soquel High School. How do I do it? Well, you gotta go apply to the Board of Directors or the Board of Education and you've got to be an accredited teacher and all that kind of stuff. They don't make it easy. The system does not encourage participation from non-career educators.
Phebus :   As a kid, what were your hobbies and interests? What did you do? Roller skating? Skiing?
Shugart :   I couldn't afford skis. In fact, I don't think I could afford roller skates. Roller skating was not really a big deal. I just did fun things. I didn't have a long-range plan. I did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. I had no specific hobbies that I fooled around with at all. Whatever turned me on at the time, I did.

Phebus: Do you think that helped foster your ideas so that you could do what you're doing now?


There's not enough logic any more. Common sense is dead.

Shugart: I'm sure it did because if you're not crowded into a very narrow life style, and you can do whatever you want, you very quickly find out the kinds of things you like and the kinds of things you don't like. So therefore, you do the kinds of things you like.