The Way It Was: Min Kao

By January 27, 2008The Way It Was

The%20Way%20It%20Was.jpgPerhaps the greatest asset of American industry is our openness to ambitious people from other countries.

An excellent case in point is a gentleman named Min Kao who grew up in a small town in Taiwan and moved to the U.S. in 1976. He brought a degree in electrical engineering with him and earned an M.S. and Ph. D. from the University of Tennessee.

By the 1980s, Kao and his friend Gary Burrell were working for Allied Signal. Kao had developed the first Global Positioning System for use in planes, and had ideas for other applications.

Kao and Burrell saw a huge opportunity to transfer GPS technology from aviation into the marine, automotive, outdoor and fitness markets. They left Allied Signal and managed to raise $4 million by hitting on friends and investment bankers, establishing Garmin Ltd. They hired a dozen engineers to design and build their first product – a GPS system for boaters. It cost $2,500 and was an instant hit. After its debut at a trade show, they had a 5,000 unit backlog of orders.

As Chairman and CEO, Kao has built an effective team at Garmin where everyone is encouraged to participate in making decisions. Today Garmin is the number one maker of navigation gear in the U.S. The company has 6,400 employees around the world and has shipped more than 22 million products.

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