On June 12, Garmin Co-founder and Chairman Emeritus Gary Burrell died at 81. Burrell co-founded Garmin in 1989 with his business partner Min Kao. The company is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, a time span during which Garmin grew from a half a dozen people to employing over 3,600 in his local community and 13,000 people in total.
“While Gary will be remembered by many as one of the great entrepreneurs of our age, I will remember the unusual way in which he led our company, something he called servant leadership,” said Garmin President and CEO Cliff Pemble, one of Burrell’s first hires at the newly formed Garmin.
“Whether it was about creating the best product or his behavior as a leader, Gary always considered the impact to others before himself. His example not only inspired my contribution to Garmin, it also positively influenced me as a husband and father. I am forever grateful for the rich and enduring legacy of Gary Burrell.”
Burrell was born in Sitwell, Kansas, and got his bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Wichita State and a master’s from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Burrell worked for Lowrance, Allied Signal, and King Radio Corporation before starting Garmin with Kao.
A $5 million investment from family and friends got Garmin started, with the company originally specializing in GPS devices for airplanes. Garmin grew to include products for automobiles, marine, outdoor, fitness, and aviation. The company sold 15 million units in 2018. Burrell retired in 2002, but continued as chairman until 2004, when he became chairman emeritus.
During his 50-year career, Burrell mentored thousands of employees and often said that his proudest accomplishment was the number of jobs he helped create. “Gary Burrell has been my friend, mentor, and partner for more than 30 years,” Kao said in a release. “His vision, values, engineering skills, and commitment to serving our customers have been the foundation for the growth of our company. It has been both a great privilege and a blessing to have known this amazing man, and I know his legacy will live on.”