Dr. Min Kao, who co-founded Garmin and has presided as its CEO since the company's inception, is retiring. Garmin announced the news today and named Clifton Pemble as Kao's successor. Effective January 1st, Kao will give up his chief executive role but will stay on as the company's board chairman, lending his input on key strategic decisions moving forward.

Throughout his tenure, Kao has overseen Garmin's tremendous rise in the dedicated GPS market, during which the company's navigation units became a hot commodity among consumers. Yet Garmin has also made a number of missteps in the smartphone era, largely discounting the potential threat Apple's iPhone and Android handsets posed to its core business.

As more and more users turned to their phones for turn-by-turn directions, the company sought to make inroads with its line of Nuvifones, but the devices failed to gain any notable traction with shoppers. Since then Garmin has released navigation apps for both iOS and Android, but even those have been mitigated thanks to comprehensive built-in GPS functionality on both platforms. Considering Kao's lengthy career manning the reigns of his company, the move isn't at all surprising. Yet Pemble faces a steep challenge in leading Garmin through a continuing period of transition that will prove crucial if it is to remain relevant (and profitable) in the years ahead.