Gary E. Knell, President and CEO, National Geographic Society
Gary E. Knell joined the National Geographic Society as president and CEO in January 2014. He has been a member of the Society’s board of trustees since April 2013 and has served on the board of governors of the National Geographic Education Foundation since November 2003.
Founded in 1888, National Geographic is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. With a mission to inspire people to care about the planet, the member-supported Society reaches more than 500 million people worldwide each month through its magazines, cable channels, TV documentaries, films, books, DVDs, maps, exhibitions, live events, school publishing programs, interactive media, radio, merchandise and digital partnerships. National Geographic has funded more than 10,000 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geographic literacy. Education activities include National Geographic Explorer classroom magazine, national and international geography competitions, state geographic alliances and professional development resources for teachers.
From 2011 to 2013 Knell was president and CEO of National Public Radio. Under his leadership, the organization solidified its position in a rapidly changing media environment due to Knell’s ability to leverage NPR’s network of member stations, drive cross-platform journalism and cultural programming, and grow philanthropic and corporate underwriting support. He was also a strong advocate of innovation and technologies to draw new audiences to public media.
Knell’s media career spans nearly three decades, including 22 years at Sesame Workshop, where he was COO for two years before assuming the role of CEO in 2000. During his 12-year tenure as CEO, Sesame expanded its revenue base, worldwide audience and global recognition. Knell was instrumental in focusing the organization on Sesame Street’s worldwide mission, including the creation of groundbreaking co-productions in South Africa, India, Northern Ireland and Egypt. He also oversaw the creation and launch of two cable networks, Noggin and Sprout.
Prior to joining Sesame Workshop, Knell was managing director of Manager Media International, a multimedia publishing company based in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore. He also served as senior vice president and general counsel at WNET/Channel 13 in New York, was counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary and Governmental Affairs Committees in Washington, D.C., and worked in the California State Legislature and Governor’s Office.
Knell is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He serves on the boards of Heidrick and Struggles, an executive search firm; the Jacob Burns Film Center; and Common Sense Media. He is an adviser to the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California and to the Military Child Education Coalition.
A Gordon Grand Fellow at Yale University, Knell was a guest lecturer at Harvard University, Duke University, Southern Methodist University, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Puerto Rico. He has received honorary doctorates from Mercy College in New York and Kenyon College in Ohio and has served as the commencement speaker at Johns Hopkins University, UCLA and the University of Texas at Austin.
Knell has a J.D. from Loyola University School of Law in Los Angeles and a B.A. in political science from UCLA, where he also served as editorial director of the UCLA Daily Bruin and was a stringer for the Associated Press.