National Geographic CEO speaks about importance of keeping up with technological advances

Caleb Wong

A legacy media company, such as National Geographic, has to reach people across different media platforms to stay relevant, according to Gary Knell, president and CEO of National Geographic. 

Knell spoke Wednesday at an Undergraduate Business Council event to discuss the challenges of leading National Geographic. Knell said National Geographic has to embrace change to fulfill its mission as an educational nonprofit with a global audience. 

“Different people need different media,” Knell said. “In my view, we have to be platform-agnostic, and it’s not one or the other — it’s all of the above.”  

Knell said companies such as Kodak and Encyclopædia Britannica went bankrupt because they would not change. 

“There are a lot of brands that your parents knew about and that you’ll know about because they disappeared,” said Knell. “Kodak is a good example. … They didn’t get in the digital game; they didn’t make the switch. They are like pretty much gone.” 

Knell said National Geographic has expanded its educational mission by working with other companies, such as Rolex and Shell, to advocate for corporate social responsibility. 

“It’s much more about corporate social responsibility and connecting with a company like Rolex, who we work with around ocean preservation, and Shell, [whom] we’ve done some work with in terms of energy issues,” Knell said. 

Accounting senior Mandy Albrecht, the chair of the VIP Distinguished Speaker Series, said Knell made what she learned in the classroom relevant. 

“I really appreciated how he drew in social media in talking about how everything is changing,” Albrecht said. “He brought in relevant cases like Kodak that we’ve studied in school as business majors. Bringing in that into what he was talking about made it relevant to what I was learning in my classroom.” 

Environmental science junior Kali Miller said Knell’s work at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization that produces Sesame Street, demonstrated his commitment to cultural diversity. 

“He started a program in India, and … everything was spot-on, and it wasn’t this American program that was being translated,” Miller said. “So I think that’s a useful way — being able to correctly represent an idea — is by immersing yourself in whatever you’re trying to represent.”