Strategist, speaker, and best-selling author Michele Wucker founded Gray Rhino & Company to help leaders, organizations, and communities to identify and strategize responses to “gray rhino” risks: the term she coined to urge people to face up to challenges that are obvious and probable yet which we are all too likely –but not condemned– to neglect despite, and often because of, their size.
Michele is a former think tank and media executive and the author of four books, including YOU ARE WHAT YOU RISK: The New Art and Science of Navigating an Uncertain World (Pegasus Books, April 2021; Chinese simplified characters edition via CITIC, September 2021; translations forthcoming in Taiwan, South Korea, Romania, and Russia). Her third book was the international bestseller, THE GRAY RHINO: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore.
Michele introduced the gray rhino concept at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos in 2013. She developed it in her eponymous 2016 book, which was released to widespread praise from global business, policy, and thought leaders. Translations of the book have been released in China (simplified Chinese characters), Hungary, South Korea, Taiwan (traditional Chinese characters), Norway, and Brazil.
The gray rhino metaphor and framework have moved markets, shaped financial policies, and made headlines around the world in more than 55 countries and 35 languages. It has shaped high-level debates from the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting at Davos to NATO to the Munich Security Conference to the Drucker Forum. The concept became emblematic of the ignored warnings that allowed the Covid-19 pandemic to escalate to catastrophic levels. The global K-pop phenomenon BTS referred to the gray rhino in a rap line in the hit song “Blue & Grey” in the context of depression and anxiety brought on by the pandemic.
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, displays the book in his office and referred to gray rhinos in much referenced speeches in January 2021 and January 2019. Published in China in February 2017, it became a runaway best-seller. In a front-page editorial in People’s Daily in July 2017, senior government officials embraced the term “gray rhino” as a way to signal policy changes to reduce financial risk in the economy, sparking global media coverage from the front page of The New York Times to stories in Turkey, Malaysia, Qatar, Vietnam, Brazil, Mexico, and many other other countries around the world. The Governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines referred to the need to address gray rhinos in the title of a speech on financial crisis.
Nine US senators referenced the gray rhino in a 2020 letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. They warned: “If our financial institutions and their regulators, particularly the Fed, fail to price climate risks, we will knowingly walk into another ‘gray rhino’ event.” The book and concept also are widely used in national security, financial planning, business continuity, and ESG communities, as well as in university and business school coursework.
The gray rhino also has inspired a dance choreography in Australia, a reference in the science fiction novel Red Moon, the name of a crime syndicate in the Japanese anime video game and television series MR LOVE, and a jazz single in Japan.
Background and Recognitions
Michele draws on more than three decades of experience in strategy, economics and finance, public policy, turnarounds and crisis management, as well as media and think tank management and content creation. She has a broad background in behavioral economics, organizational dynamics, risk, geo-politics, and economic analysis.
Michele has delivered keynote speeches, presentations and workshops around the globe to business, policy, and university audiences in countries including Argentina, Mexico, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Morocco, India, China, South Korea, Singapore, France, England, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Poland, Norway, and Sweden. Her 2019 TED Talk has been viewed 2.5 million times.
Michele’s work has earned her recognitions as a 2009 Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, a 2007 Guggenheim Fellow, a 2008 American Council on Germany Young Leader, and a 2010 Women’s Media Center Woman Making History, among other honors.
She is a member of the faculty of the DCRO Institute, which prepares directors and chief risk officers to better govern organizational risk taking. She is a strategic advisor to IRM India, senior advisor at Preventable Surprises, and a member of the 2020-22 World Economic Forum Global Futures Council on Frontier Risks. Michele also is an Oxfam Sisters on the Planet Ambassador, a mentor-editor at The OpEd Project, and a founding member of the Border of Lights arts collective. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Authors Guild.
Writing and Media
Michele’s writing on topics including crisis anticipation and risk management, finance and the global economy, immigration, citizenship, sovereign debt, women’s leadership, and international affairs has appeared around the world including in The Economist, Inc., The (NY) Observer, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, and many others. She writes regularly for strategy + business. She has appeared on many broadcast media including National Public Radio, CNN, CNBC, and MSNBC, and has been quoted in print media around the world.
Michele’s first two books are LOCKOUT: Why America Keeps Getting Immigration Wrong When Our Prosperity Depends on Getting It Right (PublicAffairs, 2006) and WHY THE COCKS FIGHT: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola (Hill & Wang, 1999). Both have influenced policy debates at the highest levels.
Michele’s previous leadership positions include Vice President for Studies at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, President of the World Policy Institute, and Latin America Bureau Chief at International Financing Review. She also has taught master’s students as an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs, of which she is an alumna.
Michele holds a B.A. from Rice University, a Master’s from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and a Certificate in Global Leadership from the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.