Farewell, Al

In Silicon Valley lore, there's no greater story of rebellion than that of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) and the Macintosh computer. That's why CEO Steve Jobs is still revered to this day. But before there was Jobs and the Mac, there was Al Shugart.

Shugart, who died earlier this week from complications during heart surgery, is the co-founder of disk drive maker Seagate (NYSE: STX  ) and one of a handful of people who had a direct influence over the development of the personal computer.

How? Rewind to 1973. As BusinessWeek writer and Silicon Valley chronicler Peter Burrows reports it, Shugart's legacy is already assured. He helped IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) pioneer the hard disk in the 1960s. And he's just invented the floppy disk.

But by the next year, his luck runs out: Shugart Associates, the firm he created to market the floppy, fires him for allowing rivals to overtake his firm's early lead.

By 1979, Apple is mass-producing PCs. Former colleague Finis Connor takes notice and calls Shugart. His idea: Form a company to create a small-scale hard drive for PCs like the Apple II. Seagate is born.

Shortly thereafter, Shugart, Connor, and Jobs strike a deal: Apple agrees to buy hard drive parts for its computers, but gets to handle the electronics and assembly itself. So begins a journey of innovation that continues to this day at Seagate.

But Shugart hasn't always been on board for the ride; he was ousted from Seagate in 1998. That's the price of being a rebel. Shugart eschewed rigid schedules and coddled engineers as he sought the next big breakthrough in storage, Burrows writes.

And that same willingness to buck convention led Shugart to perform what, for my money, still ranks as the best stunt in the history of the Valley: Shugart ran his dog, Ernest, for Congress in 1996. Talk about a willingness to break the rules.

I own shares in Seagate today as much because of the legacy of Al Shugart as because the numbers add up to a compelling valuation. Tech investing can be like that; numbers rarely tell the whole story. Being a contributor to the Motley Fool Rule Breakers team, I'm always more likely to side with the Fool who unleashes massive value by toppling existing industries than the fool who waits for innovation to occur.

Al Shugart was a Fool in the finest sense -- a pirate of Silicon Valley long before the pirate flag flew over Apple's Cupertino headquarters. Rest easy, dear Rule Breaker. You will be missed.

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Fool contributorTim Beyers, ranked 1,045 out of 17,491 inMotley Fool CAPS, enjoys a good tech rebellion. That's why he's the proud owner of a MacBook Pro, which he used to type this story. Tim owns shares of Seagate. Get the skinny on all of the stocks in his portfolio by checking Tim's Foolprofile. The Motley Fool'sdisclosure policyis a rebel on Wall Street.


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