3 College Life Lessons from Garmin’s CEO, Cliff Pemble

During my last few years at John Deere, something I grew to enjoy was occasionally glancing at the webpage that holds archived speeches given by the CEO, Sam Allen. I liked knowing what he was saying about the company and about the business climate. For me, it was always interesting reading and usually quite motivating.

For similar reasons, I was intrigued a few months ago when I stumbled across a past video clip (2010) of Garmin’s current CEO, Cliff Pemble, speaking to some students at his alma mater, MidAmerica Nazarene University (MNU). (He was COO at the time). 

I had been researching Garmin at the time because a relative of mine was going to intern over the summer at their world headquarters here in Olathe. 

I was already familiar with the company because they are a big local employer and well respected here in town. Plus, we own some Garmin products and have a couple of friends who work there, but I knew nothing about their CEO at the time.

So I clicked on the video and watched with interest as he shared a bit of his college story with the students.

NOTE: Before continuing, please view the video above. When done, please rejoin me here.

Some of the things Mr. Pemble revealed really resonated with me. I knew immediately that I should share them with the ECL community.

Although there is more I could offer, I’ve whittled down his comments to these:

3 Valuable Insights For All College Students

#1 – Reach out for help to overcome financial hurdles

Mr. Pemble didn’t have access to a college savings fund when he arrived at MNU, but a combination of scholarship and grant money helped him to earn mathematics and computer science degrees. The university supported him and helped him navigate the financial aid maze.

We learned this same lesson when our sons were undergrads. We found that there is often loan, grant and scholarship money available if a student is willing to invest the time to turn over lots of stones (i.e., apply for the $). An important starting point is simply to reach out for help. 

 #2 – Succeed academically, but also build relationships with “real world” professionals

I enjoyed the entire clip, but the real gold came out of this section. Here are a few nuggets:

    • “Another important thing…was meeting professors who worked in the outside world….or the real world.”
    • “I love doing almost anything with airplanes. So when these people came to MidAmerica to teach courses, it was fascinating to me.”
    • “And so I developed relationships with these people.”
    • “Those two people influenced me a lot in terms of showing me how problems in the real world worked.”

Hearing this from the future CEO of a high tech company was compelling and inspiring to me.

This was music to my ears because it aligned perfectly with my suggestion that we all have the ability to conduct informational interviews in order to learn new things and to meet new people. 

Cliff Pemble took the kind of action that is so valuable, particularly for a student or early career engineer. He reached out and built relationships with people he could learn from and be inspired by. 

 #3 – Don’t be surprised if your college experiences evolve into your life’s work

I loved Mr. Pemble’s quote near the end when he said,

“Wow, that was incredible preparation for what ultimately turned out to be my life’s work”.


You know, he’s right, it was incredible preparation, but it’s also important to realize that it didn’t happen on its own. 

By mixing his academic work with real world problems and “real world people”, he was able to create a rich and engaging learning experience at MNU.

The wonderful thing is that you can take the same actions that Cliff Pemble did! 

Thank You: I want to extend my sincere thanks to MNU and to Garmin for their permission to use and embed the video clip in this post. 

Question: What could you learn from a CEO in the industry you’re interested in? You can leave a comment by clicking here.