Russell Reynolds Associates Moves Former Heidrick CEO to No. 2 Post at National Geographic

In an unusual move, rival recruiting firm places Tracy R. Wolstencroft at a leading non-profit. Let’s take a look at the search and see how the former Heidrick chief will apply his leadership skills to drive National Geographic’s impact-driven strategic plan.

September 21, 2018 – Executive recruiting at times can make strange bedfellows. Russell Reynolds Associates recently placed Heidrick & Struggles’ chairman Tracy R. Wolstencroft as president and CEO of the National Geographic Society. The search for a new leader started in March when Gary Knell stepped down to become CEO of National Geographic Partners, the society’s joint venture with 21st Century Fox.

Mr. Wolstencroft is taking the helm of the non-profit to lead an ambitious impact-driven strategic plan. “As a deeply respected member of the Society’s board of trustees, Tracy has been a key architect in the transformation of the Society’s mission and strategy in recent years, including helping to establish the joint venture that created National Geographic Partners, expanding National Geographic’s footprint in an unprecedented way,” said Jean M. Case, chairman of the National Geographic Society board of trustees and the National Geographic Partners board of directors.

“During our intensive, months-long search process, we considered many highly qualified candidates,” she said. “Tracy’s distinguished international career in finance and executive search will add extraordinary value as we accelerate innovation and generate lasting solutions. We can’t think of a better leader to implement our vision for the future.”


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Mr. Wolstencroft’s “decades of experience as a global business leader will greatly benefit the society as it strives to achieve its strategic aims while expanding its footprint in key markets around the world,” said the National Geographic Society.

Mr. Wolstencroft served from 2014 to 2017 as the president and CEO of Heidrick & Struggles, leading the firm through a transformation that continues today. During his tenure, Heidrick’s revenues grew by 17 percent. In April 2017, Mr. Wolstencroft took a medical leave of absence and Krishnan Rajagopalan took over as CEO of Heidrick. Mr. Wolstencroft was then named chairman of the firm’s board of directors, a role he continues to hold.

Previously, Mr. Wolstencroft was a longstanding partner at Goldman Sachs and served on its firm-wide partnership committee. Over the course of his 25-year career, he led a wide array of Goldman’s investment banking businesses and advised a diverse range of corporate and government clients across the U.S., Asia and Latin America. During his tenure, he spent four years living in Asia where he focused on China, Japan and Singapore. Upon retiring from Goldman, and given his deep commitment to environmental sustainability, he continued advising the firm and serving as chair of Goldman’s global clean technology practice.

Contributing to Non-Profits

Throughout his career, Mr. Wolstencroft has contributed to global non-profit organizations with highly respected brands, missions that drive impact and commitments to creating and broadly sharing content that inspires intellectual curiosity about our world. In addition to his contributions to the Society’s board of trustees, he is co-chair of the International Rescue Committee, a trustee of the Brookings Institution and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.


Non-Profit Sector Opens Up New Career Path for High Performing Leaders
One of the fastest growing sectors within executive search today can be found in non-profit. Close to 150 recruiting firms specialize in some form of talent acquisition in this sector, which includes foundations, cultural institutions and academia, to name a few.


Mr. Wolstencroft has served as the Society’s board of trustees vice chairman as well as chair of its finance committee, providing seasoned stewardship of the organization’s financial assets and demonstrating his deep understanding of its mission. He joined the board in 2008 after having served on the Society’s International Council of Advisors since 2004.

New Role

Mr. Wolstencroft steps into his role at the National Geographic as the organization seeks to address some of the greatest challenges facing the planet. With 7.6 billion people placing unprecedented stresses on the world’s species and ecosystems, some estimates say current resource demands are already 1.5 times what the planet can provide. To confront this reality, the organization said it is committed to drawing on its legacy of — and continued investments in — strong science, exploration, education and storytelling. Concurrently, it will leverage its brand recognition and the extensive reach of NGP, its global media arm, across digital, print and broadcast platforms.

Related: Bridge Partners Places Four Senior Leaders for Non-Profit Groups

“The National Geographic Society has an unparalleled capacity to illuminate and educate people about the wonders of the world — and to inspire action at scale to protect it,” said Mr. Wolstencroft. “And thanks to our strategic relationship with National Geographic Partners, we’re uniquely positioned to reach global audiences through NGP’s powerful media platforms. It’s a unique privilege to join this amazing community of explorers, scientists, photographers, educators, storytellers and staff to help make measurable progress toward our ultimate vision: a planet in balance.”

Veteran Non-Profit Recruiters

Non-profit organizations occupy an increasingly central role in society, making the need for excellent and visionary boards and executive teams more important than ever. And it is a common career turn for seasoned executives. Russell Reynolds Associates says that public sector leaders face the challenge of becoming more effective and creative in the face of the growing demand and pressure on public funds.


Non-Profit Executives On The Move As Sector Transitions
Executives within the non-profit sector are said to be on the move, at least in the New England region. Leadership New England, a study of non-profit executives and board members in the region, found that two thirds of non-profit executives in the area plan to leave their jobs within the next five years and 60 percent of organizations do not have succession plans.


“Facing heightened resource constraints and greater focus on results and impact, non-profit organizations increasingly look for diverse leaders from all over the world with the required passion and skills for meeting the growing demand of the nonprofit sector,” the firm said.

Related: Gilman Partners Seeks New Leaders for Two Kentucky-Based Non-Profits

Russell Reynolds Associates’ public sector, trade and associations practice group serves a wide variety of public sector and not-for-profit organizations, related public bodies, regulators, and government-owned companies. It also fills the executive leadership needs of global charities, healthcare providers and local government and trade associations.

Russell Reynolds’ consultants have extensive experience with recruiting, developing and advising exceptional board members, CEOs and specific senior functional leadership for non-profit organizations around the world. The firm also conducts in-depth organizational culture assessment and measures the cultural fit of key leadership and candidates in the following areas: arts and culture, global development, higher education, non-profit health and human services, public sector, social justice and advocacy, as well as trade and professional associations.

Related: Kittleman & Associates Seeks Leaders for Two Key Denver Non-Profits

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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One element of note that this story misses is that Gary Knell sits on the H&S BoD and was present when Mr. Wolstencroft was recruited to H&S. The two men have known each other for some time and clearly have played a role in furthering one another’s careers.