PROFILE

Ryan Mathews

Founder, CEO, Black Monk Consulting

Ryan Mathews, founder and ceo of Black Monk Consulting is a globally recognized futurist, speaker and storyteller. Ryan is also a best selling author, a successful international consultant and a sought after commentator on topics as diverse as innovation, technology, global consumer trends and retailing. He and his work have been profiled in a number of periodicals including Wired, which labeled him a philosopher of e-commerce and Red Herring, which said of him, “It’s Mr. Mathews’ job to ask the hard questions”. In April, 2003 Ryan was named as “the futurist to watch” in an article on the 25 most influential people in demographics over the last 25 years by American Demographics magazine.

His opinions on issues ranging from the future of Internet pornography to ethnic marketing have appeared on the pages of literally hundreds of newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Business Week, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Advertising Age and American Demographics. A veteran journalist, Ryan has written cover stories for Fast Company and other leading magazines has been a frequent contributor to National Public Radio’s Marketplace on topics related to innovation. He is widely regarded as an expert on consumers and their relationship to brands, products, services and the companies that offer them. Ryan has also done significant work in related areas including supply chain analysis, advertising and new product development.

Ryan is the co-author (with Fred Crawford) of The Myth of Excellence: Why Great Companies Never Try To Be The Best at Everything (Crown Business), which debuted on the Wall Street Journal’s list of Best Selling Business Books. Myth was named to the bestseller lists of Business Week, 1-800 CEOREAD and other business book tracking services. It was also a bestseller on Amazon.com, whose Business Editors selected it for their list of the twelve best business books released in 2001. Writing about Myth Federal Express chairman, president and ceo Frederick W. Smith called Ryan an “exceptional strategic thinker.” A.G. Lafley, president and ceo of The Procter & Gamble Company said the Consumer Relevancy model advanced in Myth was, “…the best tool I’ve seen for incorporating consumer wants and needs into your business.” Ryan is also the co-author (with Watts Wacker) of The Deviant’s Advantage: How Fringe Ideas Create Mass Markets (Crown Business), which received uniformly high reviews from the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, Fortune, the Miami Herald and Time magazine. He was also a contributor to the best selling, Business: The Ultimate Resource (Perseus). Ryan is currently at work on his third book (again with Fred Crawford), tentatively titled, “Engagement: Making Sense of Life and Business” which addresses issues as diverse as a new model of branding and the search for the elusive global consumer.

A frequently requested keynote speaker Ryan has addressed a wide variety of subjects in his speech practice from the future of beauty to the future of house paint. His audiences have included labor groups such as the United Food & Commercial Workers Union; not for profit organizations like Planned Parenthood; associations from the Photographic Retailers Organization to the Grocery Manufacturers of America; academic institutions like Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State University; high technology forums such as Information Week’s CIO Boot Camp and Accenture’s E-Business Symposium; consulting audiences including Cap-Gemini, Ernst & Young and Deloitte & Touche; to consumer goods manufacturers from Sherwin Williams to Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola and numerous others. He has worked and spoken extensively in Europe for clients including Grey Advertising, Musgrave, Ltd, the British Post and Unilever. In addition to speaking and his other areas of expertise Ryan has done significant client work in organizational development as a facilitator and scenario planner.

Ryan received his BA from Hope College in Inner Asian history and philosophy and did his graduate work at the University of Detroit where he studied phenomenological ontology. He is a Kentucky Colonel and his reputation and experience as a chili authority won him a seat on the International Chili Society’s board of directors. He has also served on the Advisory Board of the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management at Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business.

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  • Posted on: 10/20/2020

    Will virtual recruiting and onboarding hurt seasonal hiring?

    Of course it will be impacted, because vetting becomes at least marginally tougher. To me this isn't a pro/con question. To quote somebody whose advice is often questionable, "It is what it is." What's the alternative?
  • Posted on: 10/20/2020

    Albertsons offers a new refrigerated take on store pickup

    I think this is a "better" not "best" solution. It solves a supermarket's problem, we'll have to see if it meets a genuine, sustainable consumer need. On the upside, product quality in frozen and fresh should be less of an issue and it potentially mitigates some of the "slotting pickup" issue. On the downside it forces shoppers out of their cars and makes them touch things. As to what the next step is, let's see how consumers vote -- but my guess is that over time lockers might replace the current pick-up model.
  • Posted on: 10/20/2020

    Will Panera’s climate-friendly labels spur sales?

    In the long-term I think climate friendly labels will become more and more important. Right now though -- with somewhere between 30 percent and 40 percent of the American public being climate/science deniers -- I'm not sure it has any impact, and may even lose Panera a few fringe customers. So for now only, this falls in my file of: "Great PR clickbait - limited impact." Hopefully I'll have to revise my rating sooner than later.
  • Posted on: 10/19/2020

    Has Shein reinvented teen e-tailing?

    Shein has put together a pretty effective combination value proposition but if I had to isolate out one of the elements of that proposition I'd have to cast my vote for inclusion. Teenagers almost always think the worst of themselves and having a broad range of new, affordable, fashion items available in sizes that fit "real people" is a strong statement about the brand's recognition of, respect for, and affirmation of young people at probably the most fragile time of their lives.
  • Posted on: 10/19/2020

    Retailers need to prep for in-store COVID conflicts

    I live in Michigan where a frighteningly large percent of the population is still mourning a recent decision that bans them from carrying their AK-47s and Glocks to polling places in a few weeks. This is a serious issue. People are irrational on this topic, so I don't know how you train anyone - short of a licensed clinician - how to de-escalate political paranoia. And how are people not suppose to take it seriously when someone deliberately spits on you after telling you they are COVID-19 positive? Avoiding power struggles is great advice (for store owners trying to avoid lawsuits) but it's a little tough when somebody is physically assaulting you. We have to quit treating this like it is an issue of a single individual who is acting out in order to be recognized. This is a movement characterized by the worst case "us and them" scenarios. Shep Hyken suggests retailers take a cue from Delta -- good advice, but only if you remember that most flyers have few alternatives and airlines have the option to call in federal Air Marshalls to reinforce their policies. And they are being hypocritical too. Their, "You have to wear a mask unless you don't," i.e.,when you buy food, drink, etc., still allows folks shedding virus to spread COVID-19, just on the airlines' terms. As for the last question, every day I get up and think to myself things couldn't get worse in terms in terms of our public interactions and every night I go to bed realizing how wrong I had been. If you are counting on America regaining its perspective, logic, and rationality - I have a lovely bridge in Brooklyn for sale.
  • Posted on: 10/19/2020

    Should local book stores be taking on Amazon?

    Full disclosure, independent bookstores are my favorite kinds of retailers, ranking just slightly in my heart above indie music stores, art stores, and hardware stores - all of which I love. It's also true that I buy a ton of books online both directly from Amazon and on AbeBooks.com, a platform for indie booksellers owned by -- wait for it -- Amazon. I know my own favorite bookstore, for example, both protests Amazon and sells on AbeBooks. So biases firmly in place let me say that I think there are more pros than cons to the protest. Nobody is going to stop buying from an indie bookstore because it is protesting Amazon, and a few may be drawn into a store they otherwise might have bypassed. The issue isn't convenience or price. There's no question that, in most cases at least pre-COVID-19, Amazon is a cheaper and faster way to pick up a book. But indie bookstores offer so much more: lots of atmosphere, the thrill of the hunt if they have used titles, sage advice and suggestions, a collection of regular eccentrics wandering about, and signings, performances, parties, and community. So far at least, Amazon can't touch any of that. As for the messaging, I don't think it really matters. Indie stores are just telling the world they are still alive and kicking, and that's good enough.
  • Posted on: 09/25/2020

    A successful diversity initiative led to an unintended consequence at Walmart

    In today's America? Absolutely not.
  • Posted on: 09/25/2020

    Can retailers drive climate change action?

    When it comes to the environment, every little bit helps, at least a little. Whether or not retailers can significantly impact climate change remains to be seen, but they can clearly raise the profile of environmental issues and practices. Is this a case of doing well by "doing good?" Sure, but what difference does it make? Of course there's more hype than hope at this point, but as I said, every little bit helps.
  • Posted on: 09/25/2020

    Walmart has changes in-store as the holidays near

    I don't approve of any decision by any retailer that may have the unintended consequence of prolonging or deepening the pandemic, especially as we move into flu season. Retailers should hold a higher health standard than their customers who rarely - in my experience - pay attention to one-way rules and, where I live, often refuse to wear masks. So no, I don't expect people to exercise more caution, in fact quite the opposite. A significant portion of the shopping public has been conditioned to believe: a.) the pandemic is a hoax; b.) COVID-19 is an anarchist conspiracy; c.) medical and scientific authorities can't be trusted, or even listened to; d.) federal and state governments can't be trusted on public health matters wither. Look, we are talking about holiday shoppers who annually trample each other - occasionally to death - to get doorbuster savings, assault each other with their fists, knives, and guns over the wearing/not wearing of masks; and spit on store employees. Caution? I'd be pleasantly surprised.
  • Posted on: 09/25/2020

    Will curbside pickup be Costco’s Achilles heel?

    In a word, "No!" From a consumer's point of view Costco has always been something of a logistical nightmare -- crowded parking lots, wandering shoppers, choke points at the demo stations, long checkout lines, etc. And apparently their shoppers love it. Thinking of my local Costco I can't imagine how they would begin thinking about setting up pickup stations, irrespective of financial issues. So yes, they may lose some sales, but I don't think it will create any significant negative effects.
  • Posted on: 09/24/2020

    Will homes of the future include ‘Amazon Rooms’?

    Ian, they have tried it. It was called Streamline and it didn't work for a number of practical reasons -- the refrigerators were in garages so (a) you had to have a garage and (b) you had to be able to avoid driving into the box. Turned out the latter was a far larger problem than the former.
  • Posted on: 09/24/2020

    Will homes of the future include ‘Amazon Rooms’?

    Gene, I was trying to have a bit of fun. But, seriously, "de minimum" is in the wallet of the beholder. Lots of folks here can't pay their water bills, so extensions/remodels are out of the question.
  • Posted on: 09/24/2020

    Will limited-assortment warehouses help Chewy avoid ‘demand shock’?

    Rick, thank you for the reminder, but I never forget who I'm dealing with. Great pun.
  • Posted on: 09/24/2020

    A successful diversity initiative led to an unintended consequence at Walmart

    The simple answer is they can't as long as they are operating on an, "identity hiring model." We saw the unintended consequences of this in the early years of Affirmative Action programs where people who were, "double," or, "triple," minorities, i.e., Black lesbians, for example, commanded extraordinary salaries. It's really a simple math problem. To be representative of the nation at large in general a work force/executive team would have to be roughly 50.52 percent female; 60 percent White; 19 percent LatinX; 12 percent Black; and 6 percent Asian-American, and roughly 24 percent LGBTQ+. But diversity and inclusion programs aren't solving for representation, they are solving for reparations. In the case of women, that works out. Most feminists would agree that if a statistical majority of executives in corporate America were women, promoted and compensated at the same rate as their male peers, a large part of their job would be done. But if we apply that same logic to race, it fails, because that would mean 60 percent of all executive positions would need to be occupied by white folks. Also that doesn't begin to consider specific geographies like Detroit for example, where a representative picture would have Black executives occupying about 80 percent of all top positions. Ditto for Latinx populations in say Los Angeles. The point of all this is, it's hard to craft a solution to a problem you can't, or don't want to honestly, define, and that's why unintended consequence start popping up. Corporations want to be "representative" without being in a position to be criticized for "quota systems" when it comes to hiring, pay, and promotion. Since there are only so many chairs in the C-suite, you can only advantage one "group" or demographic cohort at the expense of another. And as Rachelle King notes here, the default of all of this is that white men retain their power. As to the second question, clearly diversity of the workforce/executive team should lead to greater -- and better -- diversity of thought, but that kind of diversity really threatens the established corporate order.
  • Posted on: 09/24/2020

    Will limited-assortment warehouses help Chewy avoid ‘demand shock’?

    Let's deconstruct this question. How does adding physical assets help a company when demand predictably ebbs post-COVID-19? The simple answer is, it doesn't. So here's a provocative idea. Is it possible to develop a consumer-centric version of a "cross-dock" warehouse model that takes shipments in from a variety of suppliers, sorts them by zip code -- or whatever -- and then ships them out via a third party or commonly known trucking fleet so that I get my Amazon shipment, my Chewy shipment, and my monthly ration of Uncle Rick Moss' Organic Cynicism cookies, etc. all in one drop? It seems to me that that would prove to be a better model than having everyone establish more warehousing space, requiring more proprietary delivery models -- but maybe that's just me.

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