When William Watkins discovered adventure racing, the first reaction of the president and chief operating officer of disk-drive giant Seagate Technology was, "That's the sport for me!" In adventure racing, the risk of injury is great, the odds of vomiting in public are fair, and the chance of failure is also pretty good. These facts made Watkins' second revelation all the more curious: "That's the sport for my employees, too!" Watkins, 48, has thrown himself into adventure racing, and he's pulling Scotts Valley, California-based Seagate in with him.
Team building has proven an indispensable tool for modern managers, who often tap employees of diverse expertise to tackle a project as a group. So Watkins had been putting people through a variety of tamer team-building exercises ever since he joined Seagate in 1996. But he finds that adventure racing epitomizes the all-for-one ideal - and is especially suited for the high-pressure world of high technology. "We constantly have to bring a team together, create a product, produce it, and move on," he says.
At a dizzying rate, disk drives are getting faster, better at storing data, and cheaper. Seagate itself improves technology so fast that it renders its own desktop drives obsolete about every six to 12 months. And its competitors continuously raise the bar, too. As Seagate battled to maintain its dominance, earnings plummeted in the late 1990s. But in recent years, Seagate has simultaneously halved its global workforce and doubled production. Watkins' strategy: Seagate must excel at creating new technologies that quicken manufacturing.
The numbers suggest it's working: Net income is chugging steadily upward, and revenue for the year ending in spring 2001 hit $6.6 billion.