For the last decade, I have had the incredible privilege of officially affiliating with National Geographic, including as a Trustee of the Society. But, like so many others, my affinity for the iconic brand that is National Geographic dates back much further, to my childhood years, when family friends shared with me their precious library of carefully preserved National Geographic magazines. I found myself drawn to those riveting photographs and stories inside the magazine. They ignited my curiosity and made the world come alive for me. They contributed to my passion for the world and its people, and for the mission of the National Geographic Society. And I was not alone. Many people have shared that they have had similar experiences all due to the men and women who committed their lives to exploring and reporting from the front lines of the unknown. So it is with great humility that today I step into the role of Chairman of the National Geographic Society, bringing with me a passion for the organization’s mission that was ignited many years ago. I have the honor of following a much beloved leader, John Fahey, who together with CEO Gary Knell, has played a pivotal role in shaping and strengthening the Society. With John’s retirement, I realize I have really big shoes to fill.
The work of the National Geographic Society can perhaps best be understood by going into the field and witnessing the dedication and passion of National Geographic Explorers. My work with the Society has enabled me to get up close and personal with Explorers around the world — whether hiking to the highest temple in the Himalayas of Bhutan or diving the reefs off the islands of Palau, the Maldives and Cuba. It has taken me to the Galapagos to experience the island’s unique and diverse ecosystem, and to the African plains to observe the protection of big cats and the elephants in Botswana. In the mountaintops of Rwanda, an Explorer led us to observe the careful care and management of the mountain gorillas and I’ve had the thrill of crawling through an underground archeological dig in Egypt that would reveal new antiquities to the world. I’ve also had the privilege of knowing the remarkably talented and passionate professionals — whether in the field or in the National Geographic headquarters in DC — who play a key role in bringing the stories of exploration to life and keeping them relevant to hundreds of millions of people around the world.
In my work as CEO of the Case Foundation, I have focused on social enterprises that leverage the entrepreneurial spirit and business discipline to reach scale and expand and sustain their missions. But this is not a new idea. As noted by author Robert M. Poole, it was Alexander Graham Bell, at the end of his first year as President of National Geographic Society in 1898, who recognized the need to create a “truly national enterprise, its scattered members bound together by a popular magazine that infected ordinary, intelligent Americans with the sense of wonder (he) felt for science, for foreign cultures and for the natural world.”
Today, that same spirit lives on at the Society. Our planet and its ecosystems are in a fragile state from the ever-widening human footprint, and so I would argue that never before has there existed a greater need for National Geographic and its original mission to “increase and diffuse geographic knowledge.” I’m proud of the steps that the organization has taken to increase its reach, and stay relevant to a new generation. With an expanded global following, and new and compelling content across many platforms, not only will consumers have more ways to access National Geographic content, but the mission of the National Geographic Society will be strengthened in the process.
Today the Society has a robust endowment to assure continued funding of important work in science, exploration and education. From the exciting, more mission focused program lineup that is planned for the National Geographic Channel; to the outstanding editorial and photography of the National Geographic magazine and related website, apps and digital platforms; to our plans for greater exploration and conservation of our world’s unique places, we believe the future is bright and the opportunity to inspire people to care about the planet and its people is more exciting than ever before. From oceans, wildlife and antiquities, to human origins, migrations and climate change, the remarkable men and women of the National Geographic Society stand ready to answer the call, and I feel especially honored to stand with them in this important work.