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Photo by Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images for National Geographic

Gary Knell, the chairman of National Geographic Partners, has stepped down, according to an internal email. Sources say his seven-year contract had expired.

Why it matters: National Geographic Partners is a joint venture between Disney and the non-profit National Geographic Society. According to one source, the merger between 21st Century Fox and Disney in 2019 diluted some of the business units that once fell under National Geographic Partners' periphery.

Details: An email sent internally on Monday by Disney General Entertainment Content chair Peter Rice says it was Knell's decision to step down.

Rice credits Knell for "taking the steps that ultimately brought the amazing Nat Geo brand into the Disney family and setting us all up for long-term success."

  • In a note to colleagues, Knell said: "I feel more confident than ever that our decision back in 2015 to create National Geographic Partners as a 'grand experiment' will indeed prove key to its ability to succeed and to reach the millions of people from every corner of the globe who love our planet, thrive on exploration and adventure, and are boundlessly curious about the world and everything in it."
  • "While he is ready for his next chapter, we will miss him and his leadership a great deal," the Rice email says.
  • Rice's note does not name an immediate replacement for Knell's role but that the company will "search for the organization’s next leadership" as Knell stays on through the end of May.

Read the full memo below.

###

Dear colleagues,

Today, Gary Knell shared with the team at National Geographic Partners that he has decided to step down as Chairman. Thankfully, he will remain with us through the end of May as we search for the organization’s next leadership. Gary has been a truly visionary leader of National Geographic for the last seven years, first as CEO of the National Geographic Society and then as Chairman of Partners. He deserves immense credit for taking the steps that ultimately brought the amazing Nat Geo brand into the Disney family and setting us all up for long-term success. While he is ready for his next chapter, we will miss him and his leadership a great deal.

As many of you know, Gary was the key architect of the creation of National Geographic Partners in 2015 as a joint venture with 21st Century Fox. It was a remarkable and ground-breaking deal. I got to know Gary through that transaction and admired his vision, tenacity, focus and creativity in creating a structure that would ensure National Geographic Society’s ongoing viability, and enable the commercial side of the business to grow and thrive in what we all know is a complex, challenging and rapidly changing media environment. Then, with Disney’s acquisition of the Fox assets, Gary continued to lead Partners into yet another partnership that would – and will – help the brand grow even further. As we have been able to now fully integrate the Nat Geo team into The Walt Disney Company structure, the promise of the marriage is well on its way to enduring success.   

I know we are all deeply grateful to Gary for his dedication, none more than those of us on the NGP board including Kareem Daniel, Josh D’Amaro, Rebecca Campbell and Nancy Lee. While we respect Gary’s decision to begin his next chapter, we are confident in the extraordinary teams both within DGE and across The Walt Disney Company leading the Nat Geo businesses and the committed enterprise team at Partners who all will continue to champion and elevate this iconic brand. 

There will be a time later to send Gary off officially and with all due recounting of his many accomplishments. But at this moment, we give him our deepest gratitude for what he has created and our very best wishes for the next phase.

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