Renowned Global Risk and Economic Policy Expert Michele Wucker Captivates as MPS Distinguished Lecturer

The Master of Public Safety Program at the School of Continuing & Professional Studies is excited to welcome Distinguished Lecturer, Michele Wucker. A renowned global risk and economic policy expert, Wucker’s experience will add an incredible depth and richness to the program’s already celebrated Practical Applications of Risk Management in Public Safety Operations course (PSPS 6005) launched last year by Distinguished Lecturer Gordon Graham.

Wucker is the founder of the strategic advisory firm, Gray Rhino & Company. In addition to her new role at UVA, she is on the faculty and stakeholder supervisory board of the DCRO Risk Governance Institute and is an advisor to the India affiliate of the Institute for International Risk Management and the think tank APRI Armenia.

With her expertise in risk management, Wucker became well-known for coining the term “gray rhino” to counter leaders’ surprising vulnerability to obvious, probable, impactful risks. The concept and accompanying analytical framework, which are centered on things we can see coming, but only if we are willing to look, are the subject of her influential global bestseller, "The Gray Rhino." In its sequel, "You are What You Risk," Wucker explores the psychological, physiological, cultural, organizational and policy influences on individual and group risk choices.

The Gray Rhino framework has been adopted across U.S. national security and emergency preparedness communities and has shaped discussions at global leadership forums including the World Economic Forum, NATO and the United Nations. It has also been interpreted in different ways outside of the security industry. The K-Pop group BTS used the Gray Rhino metaphor in their 2020 song, “Blue & Grey,” bringing attention to mental health in a very personal way. And an eighth grader in Bangalore used the framework to overcome what she saw as her own digital addiction. This student launched a campaign to help others do the same, and enlisting the help of a member of the Indian parliament, was invited to speak at the United Nations.

“Disaster Zone” podcast host Eric Holdeman initially connected Wucker with UVA Distinguished Lecturer Gordon Graham. After understanding the MPS program’s mission, Wucker and Senior Director of Public Safety Programs Bryon Gustafson quickly saw that her area of expertise would benefit MPS students and the communities they serve around the globe.

“Gordon and Michele are the absolute ‘dream team’ to teach public safety leaders about risk management,” Gustafson shared of the virtual classroom experience with Graham and Wucker, facilitated by UVA Professor and retired Arlington County Police Chief M. Jay Farr. “They cover the full breadth of risk—from the micro-operational level of a single actor to the macro-systemic level of global trends across industries. They are captivating.” 

Wucker is excited to teach risk decision making and behavior to an audience who has dedicated their careers to public safety. “My insights come from capital markets, business strategy, behavioral science, and economic policy, but they translate well to many contexts,” she explained. “Gray Rhino theory is well known in the business community, disaster risk reduction, security and first responder communities, so UVA’s Public Safety program is a great fit.”

Having seen and studied the harm that comes from shrugging off preventable problems – jobs become harder, organizations become less effective, threats prevail – Wucker hopes students will walk away from her class with a new respect for critically looking at issues facing them, regardless of how intimidating that might be. She hopes students will strengthen their “risk muscle” and refuse to take it for granted that someone else is handling a situation. 

"All too often, people think about risk management mainly as identifying challenges, so they stop once they have made a list. But the key to success is the way people and organizations respond to risks."

Michele Wucker

Wucker finished her first term teaching at UVA in fall 2023. She and Graham are coteaching again in spring 2024 and are looking to expand the study of Risk in another course planned for launch later in 2024.