Some more words with Seagate

At the meeting with Bill Watkins, chief executive of Seagate, on Tuesday he did not just talk about solid state storage and its future. He is an outgoing and cheerful man who wants he started talking to a group of journalists showed no signs of wanting to stop anytime soon.

At the meeting with Bill Watkins, chief executive of Seagate, on Tuesday he did not just talk about solid state storage and its future. He is an outgoing and cheerful man who wants he started talking to a group of journalists showed no signs of wanting to stop anytime soon.

It would be a disingenuous to day that he “knows all about storage” but he does appear to know everything there is to know about bits and bytes on magnetic media.

After an hour of first outlining Seagate’s current position (it took 10 minutes) and then answering questions (an hour plus) he showed signs of stopping, slowing or running out of words. On the contrary in the end the journalists, including myself, ran out of questions.

Bill Watkins is, as they say, quite an act. Here are a few more thoughts from Bill and two of his managers, Pat O’Malley, chief financial office, and Pat King, branded solutions sales and marketing.

Watkins revealed early on that the company was looking at some form of network attached storage box. A reporter asked if it would include a media player like a TV player. “I don’t know about a TV player but if you look the Apple TV player or the like you need to have some sort of a box that can look at all the inputs you can have from TV, for music and all the other types of media, make it able to gather from all of these inputs, have some kind of a store and then move it back out when you want to listen to it or watch it or whatever.

"That concept or solution is something we are going to look at very, very carefully.”

One of the other executives went a little further and said, “it will be come sort of hard drive that will dock into your TV. You will see hard drives with remote controllers and user interfaces that help you organise the content.”

Watkins was asked if he was concerned that a Chinese supplier might spring up to compete with him. “I assume that they do,” he said. “The problem is that there is so much IP (intellectual property) in our drives.”

Does he see any more consolidation? “I don’t think so. The macroeconomics is such that people will stay where they are. That’s an absolute.”

What concerns Seagate? One of the issues Watkins said was the way the market was consolidated so that in some areas there was very little slack to call upon. As an example, one of the other executives pointed out that there was only one supplier of the magnetic heads that are used on every hard disk drive. As he pointed out, “if that supplier has a problem the industry has a problem”.

What is the future of the Northern Ireland plant? “It is a very good facility,” said Watkins. It is a massive investment on our part.”

The other place for Seagate to manufacture in the west is the US another spokesman said that it was not considered as good a place to manufacture since it “is not vey labour-competitive”.

It was put to Watkins that there were some markets that Seagate had missed out on, in particular, mobile phones and that it was too late for them to get involved? The problem, said Watkins, was that it was one thing to get into the market, to make money out of it was another. He believes that most of the companies he could compete with are selling at or below cost price and so losing money.

He said other companies would give customers the same storage at half the price where as the Seagate model was built on giving the customer twice the storage at the same price. According to Seagate there would be a point where the company would sell 500 GB on a single platter.