Industry mourns Garmin founder Gary Burrell

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Gary Burrell

Gary Burrell

Garmin International, Inc., announced that Gary Burrell, aviation pioneer and cofounder of Garmin Ltd., died on Wednesday. He was 81.

Burrell retired in 2002 and continued to serve as Garmin’s co-chairman until 2004 when he was named chairman emeritus.

Burrell cofounded Garmin with Dr. Min Kao in 1989 with the vision of creating products powered by an emerging technology known as the Global Positioning System, or GPS. Thirty years later, Garmin has grown from a handful of engineers into a global company with more than 13,000 associates in 60 offices around the world. Of his many accomplishments, Burrell was most proud of the jobs he helped create.

The company has made a huge impact on the evolution of marine electronics, said Mark Reedenauer, president and executive director for the National Marine Electronics Association.

“Garmin has played a big role in propelling the marine electronics industry forward since its inception 30 years ago, thanks in part to the visionary leadership of Gary and Dr. Min Kao,” Reedenauer told Trade Only Today. “While I didn’t have the pleasure of working with Gary, I’m grateful for his entrepreneurial and innovative spirit – the marine electronics industry is certainly better for it.”

Burrell also made an impact on the people he worked with over the years.

"Gary Burrell has been my friend, mentor and partner for more than 30 years," Kao said in a statement. "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.”

In a career spanning 50 years, Burrell mentored thousands of employees. Among them was Garmin President and CEO Cliff Pemble, one of Burrell’s first hires.

“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,” Pemble said. “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.”

Prior to launching Garmin in 1989, Burrell held leadership positions at marine and aviation electronics companies, including Lowrance Electronics, King Radio Corporation and AlliedSignal. He is regarded as one of the leading innovators of integrated avionics, and is recognized for designing and developing the first successful NAV/COMM for the general aviation market.

At Garmin, Burrell expanded his vision for integration with the GNS 430/530 product family, which combines GPS technology with traditional aviation navigation and communication systems and a color moving map.

Burrell went on to conceive the G1000 cockpit system which today is operating in thousands of aircraft around the world, from small piston powered airplanes through mid-sized business jets.

Burrell earned his bachelor’s in electrical engineering at Wichita State University and his master’s from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


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