Garmin team


What It Is: A publicly traded technology company specializing in GPS-based applications, Garmin Ltd. produces avionics for the general and business aviation line-fit, retrofit, and experimental markets, in addition to mass-market consumer devices.

How It Grew: In 1989, sparked by a dinner conversation about potential consumer applications for the nascent Global Positioning System, Motorola colleagues Gary Burrell and Min Kao raised $4 million and founded ProNav in Lenexa, Kansas. They soon changed the name to Garmin, a portmanteau of Gary and Min, and in 1991 the company entered the aviation market. It began with the GPS-100AVDpanel-mounted receiver, followed by its first portable unit, the GPS-95 (1993); the GPS-155 (1994), the first GPS receiver FAA-certified for instrument approaches; and the GNS 430 (1998), its first integrated GPS, COM, VOR, LOC, and glideslope product.

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In December 2000, following the dot-com bust, Garmin proceeded with a planned IPO (Nasdaq: GRMN). The new century brought the G1000 (2003), its first integrated flight deck (IFD), with the in-development Cessna Citation Mustang light jet as launch platform. That same year, Garmin acquired UPS Aviation Technologies (UAT), rebranding it Garmin AT, and renamed UAT’s CNX-80 WAAS GPS/COM/NAV—the first aviation product approved for primary GPS navigation—as the GNS-480. 

In 2009 Garmin introduced the first touchscreen IFD, the G3000, and the following year the touchscreen G5000 IFD for Part 25 business jets. Also in 2010 Kao succeeded Burrell as CEO, and the company incorporated in Switzerland. Throughout, vertically integrated Garmin kept all design, manufacturing, marketing, and warehouse processes in-house.

In 2018 Garmin opened a new manufacturing facility in Olathe, Kansas, more than doubling North American aviation product manufacturing and warehousing capacity.

What It Offers: Garmin manufactures integrated cockpits, panel mount displays, multifunction displays, transponders, radar, and other avionics, sold under a dozen product categories: flight decks and displays; autopilots; navigation and radio equipment; active traffic; weather radar and receivers; audio panels; ADS-B and transponders; connectivity; sensors and interfaces; flights instruments and indicators; portable devices and apps; and engine information systems.

QUOTE: “By controlling the entire process, we’ve had higher levels of innovation, reduced risks, lower costs, and greater scalability.” —chairman Min Kao, on the company’s vertical business model.


Founded: 1989

HQ: Olathe, Kansas (incorporated in Schaffhausen, Switzerland)

Aviation business revenue: $603 million (2018; 18 percent of corporate sales)  

Employees: More than 13,000   

President & CEO: Cliff Pemble

Chairman: Min Kao

Chairman emeritus: Gary Burrell