Behind GPS is the people

October 16, 2020  - By
Headshot: F. Michael Swiek

F. Michael Swiek, president, Mike International LLC

It is often said that “Behind every successful man there is a woman.” Likewise, if we look behind every significant event, policy statement, technological achievement and milestone in GPS history, there are people. They make the textbook chronologies of impressive progress both personal and human.

My own 30-year association with GPS has tracked closely with that of GPS World. Here are vignettes that sit most warmly in my “family snapshot album” of great moments in GPS.

In December 1994, the Civil GPS Service Interface Committee (CGSIC) held its first international meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, hosted by the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB). The small team of Americans attending the meeting were invited the following day to participate as the “International Team” in the annual NLB quiz competition held in a venerable pub. The competition is hotly contested each year among the NLB divisions, with the winning division commemorated with a brass medallion on a large wooden plaque kept for decades in NLB headquarters. To everyone’s chagrin, the Americans won. The good humor and boisterous camaraderie of that evening laid the foundation for close and candid dialogue between U.S. and European institutions on a wide variety of satellite navigation issues for years to come.

In 1996, Charlie Trimble was to introduce Vice President Al Gore in a ceremony at the White House to announce a Presidential Policy Statement on GPS. On the scheduled day, Charlie was unable to enter the White House, despite being vouched for by White House officials, because he was carrying no photo ID. White House security asked me if I had anything official with Charlie’s picture. They finally accepted a copy of the Trimble Navigation annual report, because in the words of one security officer, “I’ve heard of fake driver’s licenses, but not fake corporate annual reports.” Charlie was admitted.

On September 11, 2001, all of us attending CGSIC and ION in Salt Lake City sat stunned in our conference room watching the news reports from New York. Our meeting sessions were canceled, but we came from our hotel rooms because we needed to be together as friends in our shock and confusion, worrying about our families and friends and what the days ahead would be like. Anyone with a cell phone able to get a line out gladly shared it.

“I’ll only be a minute, just want to check with my family.”

“Talk as long as you want.”

In the mid-1990s in the ION exhibit hall, I was walking and talking with Charlie Trimble, Randy Hoffman (founder of Magellan Systems) and Gary Burrell (co-founder of Garmin), who were engaged in good-natured trash talking about each others’ companies, products and personalities. Glen Gibbons, founder of this esteemed publication, came across us, smiled, and said he was surprised to see such a congenial group of competitors. Charlie responded that in the marketplace they were competitors, but at ION they were all colleagues.

Glen added, “So, all friends!”

All three blurted, “Don’t go that far!” amid more laughs and grins.

The Japan GPS Council became one of the earliest and most influential industry groups in helping to guide the evolution and growth of GPS policy and industry, due to the personal passion of Hiroshi Nishiguchi. When meetings were held in Washington, Nishiguchi, other international representatives, industry and government officials would be guests in our home for convivial dinner chats. Nishiguchi became so comfortable, we considered him like family. He would leave a cardigan sweater in our coat closet between visits, and upon entering our house would remove his tie and suit jacket, go to the closet, and put on his sweater — like Mr. Rogers — before relaxing for the evening. He performed this ritual even when accompanying senior Japanese officials.

So, while technological milestones and policy commitments tell a great deal of the story of GPS, there are also the unique and cherished people, and the privilege it has been to know them as friends.