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Alan Shugart, 76, co-founder of hard-drive titan Seagate Technology

ALAN SHUGART ALAN SHUGART (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS FILE/1997)

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Alan Shugart, cofounder of hard-drive maker Seagate Technology LLC, died Tuesday at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. He was 76.

He had been admitted last week and died of complications from heart surgery, said a company spokeswoman, Julie Still

He was still working until the day of his death, checking e-mails for his new company, Al Shugart International, a startup incubator based in Santa Cruz, Still said.

Sometimes referred to as the Disk King, Mr. Shugart helped pioneer the multibillion-dollar hard drive industry, in which Seagate is the market leader. He helped start the company in 1979 and served as its chief executive officer until 1998.

Described by some as a maverick, Mr. Shugart was well known for his colorful personality and his effort to get his dog to run for Congress. The unsuccessful ploy -- a statement against the inability of voters to have a none-of-the-above choice on ballots -- became the topic of one of his three books, "Ernest Goes to Washington (Well, Not Exactly)."

He was known for wearing Hawaiian shirts to work but still commanded deep respect from his employees, his associates said yesterday.

"He was just his own man," fellow Seagate founder Finis Conner said in a phone interview. "He was very comfortable in his own skin and he didn't have to do things to gain endorsements from other people."

Mr. Shugart was described as a great leader, who had integrity and a hands-off management style. He worked well with engineers, helping them achieve their goals, an important skill in the high-tech industry, his associates said.

"In this world of offices and cubicles, he had this ability to strip away titles and looked at every person as a real human being, whether you're an operator or a chief operating officer; he was a great person," said Bill Watkins, who became Seagate's chief executive in 2003 after serving as executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Watkins recalled how he made a last-minute decision in 1998 to join Seagate instead of its competitor Maxtor Corp., which Seagate acquired earlier this year.

Dressed in a floral Hawaiian shirt, shin-length bell bottoms, red socks, and sandals, Mr. Shugart "talked to me about life and dogs and all sorts of weird stuff, which was an interesting way to recruit me," Watkins said. "I told my wife that night, 'I'm not sure about Seagate, but after spending time with this guy, I want to work for him.' "

Born in Los Angeles, Mr. Shugart attended the University of Redlands, where he earned a degree in engineering physics.

He joined IBM Corp. in 1951 and was among the original team of developers who built the first computer disk drive 50 years ago.

After 18 years at IBM, he worked as a vice president at Memorex International Inc. before founding Shugart Associates in 1973. That company was acquired by Xerox Corp., and Mr. Shugart and Conner started Shugart Technology, later renamed Seagate Technology, which is based in the Cayman Islands but operates out of Scotts Valley.

Seagate built the industry's first 5.25-inch hard drive for personal computers in 1980.

During the 1980s, he had a tough time trying to convince investors that hard drives were going to be part of the future.

"The first Seagate drive was 5 megabytes, and no one believed that anyone would need 5 megabytes of storage," Watkins said. "But [Mr. Shugart] kept saying, 'People are going to need storage.' "

Today, hard drives are a $28 billion industry. Nearly all devices from cellphones and digital cameras to servers and laptop computers require vast amounts of memory to store all manner of data.

Mr. Shugart leaves his wife, Rita, four daughters, a son, and seven grandchildren.

Material from the Los Angeles Times was used in this obituary.

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