A CEO who relaxes by blowing things up

Pillar Data Systems founder Mike Workman unwinds at his hobby fireworks factory.

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(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Mike Workman likes to blow stuff up.

When he's not running Pillar Data Systems, the data-storage company he founded in San Jose, Calif., with investment from Oracle (ORCL, Fortune 500) founder Larry Ellison, Workman designs custom fireworks at his hobby factory outside Oatman, Ariz. And we're not talking sparklers.

In 2003, at Ellison's request, Workman orchestrated a massive show in San Francisco Bay that consumed 6,000 shells in 28 minutes, at a cost of $250,000.

"The permits alone were $40,000," he says.

Though most of his shows are for personal enjoyment - out in the desert with a cigar, a glass of wine, and his dachshund, Clams - Workman competes in annual pyro­technic conventions across the West. His pièce de résistance this year? An aerial shell that will rise to 2,000 feet and shower colors across a quarter mile.

In addition to building fireworks, Workman bottles wine - 400 to 500 gallons a year of reds, from cabernets and merlots to his favorite petit syrah.

"What I found in starting a company is that it really has to be an obsession," says Workman, 51. "So I need alternative distractions that I can be equally obsessed over. I need something to give my brain a rest."  To top of page

Do you unwind from business pressures with an exotic hobby? Tell us about it.

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