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, 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.

  • Posted on: 08/04/2020

    Will diversity pledges be followed by results?

    This is an amazingly complex question and one that I think is poorly framed. These pledges address the superficial symptoms of discriminatory practice, but not the disease of systemic and institutionalized racism, sexism, or gender identity bias. What is being proposed is a 21st century version of the old affirmative action programs. Both versions confuse quantitative and/or proportionate representation with actual equity, equality, and inclusion. What the experience of affirmative action should have taught us is that social justice can be a matter of one small step forward, two large steps back. By setting quotas, a corporation is saying that the most important thing is checking off the boxes, not fully recognizing candidates of color/gender as fully qualified. The result is that many employees may get a certain job but still feel they can't, "bring their whole selves to work," i.e., they can have the job, as long as they conform to white patriarchal, paternalistic, corporate values and standards. Yes, qualified "minority" applicants get hired and promoted at a higher rate than they may have in the past, but those hires/promotions often live in the shadow of, "S/he only got the job because of (FITB)." Also, sad to say, getting to the table isn't the same thing as equality. How many female RetailWire readers have had the experience of being automatically assigned the role of note taker, coffee gofer, or find themselves taken seriously, but not quite as seriously as "the boys?" And is what we are witnessing an actual response to the call for social justice? If it is, where is all the activity around Latinx employees? Finally, the goal really isn't diversity, it's convenient diversity. It would be tough to get hired at any of the "pledge" companies if one were older, or a white male, or an avowed "classic" conservative who believes that, in a free market, everyone needs to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Bottom line: we aren't always building real, robust, genuinely diverse and/or inclusive corporate cultures. We are more often slapping Band-Aids on amputated limbs and declaring victory because the patient is bleeding slightly less than they were before. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and all forms of discrimination run deep. Cutting out their infections is hard work, but, there really is no alternative. Companies would be better advised to stop just doing "things" and start doing the hard work of doing things right.
  • Posted on: 08/03/2020

    Trader Joe’s says ‘never mind’ on private label name changes

    Of course Trader Joe's will suffer "some" feedback around the decision. For one thing will keep pushing them on that, but they won't be alone. Will it significantly hurt sales? Probably not, but Al McClain is right. This is an unforced error. Make enough unforced errors, and a brand that has always been seen as "progressive" could begin to suffer cracks in its halo. I know there are those who will say things like, "Hey, they were only having fun," or, "They didn't mean any harm." Well I'm sure Frito-Lay didn't mean any harm when they introduced the "Frito Bandito" -- but many members of the LatinX community didn't see it that way anymore than, as an Irish-American, I enjoy those (non-Irish) drunken idiots, swilling green beer, wearing leprechaun hats and "Kiss Me I'm Irish" buttons on St. Patrick's Day. My vote? They should have changed the name.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2020

    Pandemic ‘fast-forwarded everything’ for nation’s largest cannabis retailer

    Traversing a labyrinth of conflicting city ordinances, county regulations, and state and federal law is the single hurdle to moving cannabis retailing into the mainstream, and COVID-19 isn't hyper-accelerating progress in that arena. So my vote would be no. Sure some superficial changes have happened, but we are talking about a potentially huge industry still in its infancy. Where I live you could legally posses cannabis in Windsor; legally posses it in Detroit; and be arrested crossing the border between Windsor and Detroit. That's the problem. I assume cannabis sales will continue to increase. When you see arch conservatives like John Boehner becoming cheerleaders for the cannabis cause you know two things: one there's a large fortune on the horizon and everyone is getting in position to grab it; and the forces which have historically been opposed to any "drugs" are now promoting it meaning the profit opportunity has superseded their "morality," or they just want the population stoned so they'll be easier to herd, or both. I assume once the legal/regulatory issues are resolved you will see a massive rollup or consolidation with major branders capturing the lion's share of the industry and small boutique growers/retailers producing the cannabis equivalent of craft brews.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2020

    Will axing commission fees entice Amazon sellers to move to Google Shopping?

    Remember how Google+ was going to replace Facebook and/or Twitter? People are creatures of habit, and digital shopping habits are no exception. Will waving fees get Google more business? Yes. Will disaffected Amazon vendors move to Google? Sure. Will that -- at least for the foreseeable future -- be a threat to Amazon? Not hardly. Amazon just has significant prime mover advantage and, unless they make a huge misstep, (which is always possible) Google won't catch them -- at least any time soon.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2020

    Nov. 2021: How should retail plan for a return to normal?

    Retailers and brands should scrap the idea of "strategy" -- as we traditionally think about it -- period, full stop. Our traditional view of the future as a linear extension of the past and present hasn't served us very well. One could argue that brick-and-mortar retailers still haven't adjusted their strategies all that well to that little disruption we call the commercial internet and that's been around since 1993. Nor have branders and retailers been particularly adroit at converting social/culture change and the emergence of the so-called, "new consumer," into sustainable growth platforms. The current crisis isn't just about COVID-19, or Black Lives Matter protests, or the culture wars, or social media, or cancel culture, or increasing polarization of the consumer base -- it's about all the above and much, much, more. While industry pundits have been pontificating about technology as the lighting rod of strategic change, some of us have been arguing for literally decades that the retail and consumer goods industry should have been paying more attention to biology. Sadly, we were right. So "normal" is a word I would ban from all strategic dictionaries. There is no "normal" now, there hasn't been any "normal" for quite a long time, even pre-COVID-19, and there is not likely to be any "normal" for the foreseeable future. As to whether or not branders and retailers should "prepare for the worst," I have no idea what that means. They should prepare for continuous change that may hurt them or help them depending on their flexibility, agility, and ability to play -- and win -- without a rule book.
  • Posted on: 07/30/2020

    Is a drive-through-only store the shape of things to come for Wawa?

    As I am probably overly fond of saying on this forum, it all rests on execution. The idea makes sense in theory since the primary advantage c-stores have is -- well -- convenience, but as curbside pickup customers know, the devil is in the details. Getting stuck in a long drive-through lane that may block access to gas pumps isn't a winning formula. So the only plausible answer is, "we'll see."
  • Posted on: 07/30/2020

    Beauty becomes a digital beast

    Like so many things, it all depends on whether or not we develop an effective, broadly distributed COVID-19 vaccine. If physical stores can reopen and demo and sampling stations can go back into business, who knows? Some customers will be digital converts and stay online, others will want to be pampered and will switch back to stores. Only time will tell. That said, yes, the recent experiences in beauty and self-care have a great deal to teach other categories from fashion to grocery.
  • Posted on: 07/30/2020

    What didn’t Jeff Bezos know and when didn’t he know it?

    Counterfeits are probably more of a problem for Amazon than stolen goods, which feels more like a Craigslist problem to me since it's hard to understand how it could scale. If something were on the low end, why go through all the hassle of selling it online? And if it were on the opposite end of the value scale -- say a hot Basquiat painting -- putting it on Amazon seems like a good way of getting caught. Counterfeits, because they can be scaled, are clearly more of a problem and Bezos clearly should have had a canned answer in his pocket. The fact that he didn't leads the cynical to believe that a.) he is aware of the problem, and b.) he isn't worried about it for one reason or another. As far as the data question, it seems to be an example of caveat venditor - let the seller beware. Amazon routinely brutalizes partners and actively sets up entire categories of vendors to fail. Anyone who enters into business with Amazon with their eyes closed is inviting disaster.
  • Posted on: 07/29/2020

    Will Amazon become the go-to place to buy face masks?

    I partially agree with Stephen Rector's comments. Amazon is already doing a booming business in masks, just type in any number of search words and you'll see for yourself. So how could it add value, and - more importantly - add differentiating value? One way might be to nuance the search engine a bit adding specific categories of masks, although I really don't see the need for a full-blown e-store. Another would be to rank in a slightly different way; some combination of price, performance, quality, reliability, etc. As to the private label question. Why not?
  • Posted on: 07/29/2020

    How can retailers differentiate curbside delivery?

    It's all about execution. Get me in without friction. Get me out without delay. Get the order right the first time, every time. Full stop. Putting out chairs in the middle of a pandemic? Great if you want to spend a fortune in labor hours constantly sanitizing seating for people who's only goal is to chat with strangers. But for the rest of the planet, I say it's all about the basics.
  • Posted on: 07/29/2020

    Retailers hunt for spare change

    Let's start with what I wouldn't recommend - rounding up. Looks too much like a - quite literal - nickel and dime scam. How about something novel like, oh, I don't know -- rounding down? Of course any solution that works for cash customers has sort of a reverse impact on non-cash users. Round up, and you are giving a benefit to credit card users and therefore discriminating against those without cards. Round down, and you are penalizing card users who are paying - admittedly something south of a dollar - more for the same items. But of those two problems, I'd still rather round down, since it might give a few miserly people a reason to switch back to using cash -- and presumably some additional change.
  • Posted on: 07/28/2020

    What can you learn about ecommerce sales driving on the NJ Turnpike?

    First of all, I'm a little troubled that Ron was counting and logging trucks while driving. If that's not a traffic offense in New Jersey it ought to be. Seriously, I'd say Amazon. What stands out is that they are operating on an entirely different profit model.
  • Posted on: 07/28/2020

    Neiman Marcus launches digital hub to bring the in-store experience online

    Feels like the wrong questions. The answer to the first one is obviously, "Yes," since there all kinds of examples already, many that go further, i.e., letting a consultant take an online "tour" of your closet, drawers, house, etc. So, this is more Neiman playing catch up rather than differentiating. Also Bob Phibbs is right. The real question is, "Is this too little, too late?" And, I'm afraid the answer to that may also be, "Yes."
  • Posted on: 07/28/2020

    Has retail adaptation become more about survival than competitive edge?

    Of course! But I'd argue that business was lagging consumer change way pre-COVID. All the pandemic did was lengthen the gap. I don't believe we will ever go fully back to the Old Normal, or at least I hope we don't. We live in transformational times. It would be a pity to opt for business as (was) usual.
  • Posted on: 07/27/2020

    Retailers need to reorganize like a 21st century business

    You would, wouldn't you Dave, but apparently not.

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