Interview with Gilbert Melville Grosvenor

Chairman, National Geographic Education Foundation
Member, National Geographic Board of Trustees


From an early age, Gil Grosvenor met, with interest, the explorers who were visiting his father and grandfather in Washington D.C., in their work at the National Geographic Society. Although he was meeting interesting people and respected what his family was up to at the Geographic, it was not his early intent to follow in their footsteps, as they had in those of his great-grandfather, Alexander Graham Bell, and great-great grandfather, and Society founder, Gardiner Greene Hubbard. What changed the mind of the man who eventually served as editor of National Geographic Magazine from 1970 to 1980, then as the National Geographic Society president from 1980 to 1996.

Vernon Holleman sat down with Gil at the end of 2010 to discuss his succession story in an organization known as well as any on the planet. This interview series is about hearing real stories first hand and learning the lessons our guests have learned from their experiences. Gil helps the listener understand what brought him to the Society and the family dynamic issues he dealt with while there.

Notable Discussion Topics:

Among other topics, Gil discusses the following issues with Vernon Holleman III, CLU:

  • Family Influence to Enter
  • Following Legends – a Firsthand Look
  • 125 years of Leading an Institution – Perspective / Story and Patterns
  • Changing Market Dynamics and the Timing of Leadership Transitions
  • Length of Tenure
  • Continuity of Ideals
  • Training for Success, even Against Will
  • Hiring Two Successors Out – Thinking Ahead
  • Inside vs. Outside People
  • Brand Maintenance
  • Life After Work / Importance Of


Gilbert M. Grosvenor as a child

Gilbert M. Grosvenor is chairman of the National Geographic Society’s Education Foundation and is a member of the Society’s board of trustees. He retired on Dec. 31, 2010, as chairman of the board, a position he had held since 1987. Grosvenor was president of National Geographic from 1980 to 1996, the fifth generation of his family to serve in that position.

Grosvenor was born on May 5, 1931, in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Yale University in 1954 and joined the Society staff that year as a picture editor. He was editor of National Geographic magazine from 1970 to 1980, when he became the Society’s 14th president. He has served as a member of the board of trustees since 1966.

In 1975, concerned about the lack of geographic knowledge among students, Grosvenor created National Geographic World (now National Geographic Kids), a monthly magazine for children. In 1985 he launched an effort to improve geography education in the nation’s classrooms. The Society’s Geography Education Outreach division and its local partners have invested more than $110 million in improving geography in America’s K-12 schools.

In June 2004 Grosvenor received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is a director or trustee of several foundations and corporations, including Chevy Chase Trust and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. He is a member emeritus of the Board of Visitors of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment; former vice chairman of the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors; and former member of the President’s Commission on Environmental Quality.