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: 07/29/2022

    Should ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates be reimagined to reduce waste?

    "Use By" dates are consumer friendly and useful. "Best Buy" dates probably do lead to food waste ... assuming anyone is reading them. And, that's the problem. Go into your pantry or shelves right now and see how many items are past their "Best Buy" and/or "Use By" dates. It many kitchens that's a scary exercise. So, if people aren't paying attention to them now, will they even notice a difference in labeling? Frankly, I don't know. If everyone bought fresh, this would be much less of a problem, since the product itself would "tell" you when it was no longer edible.
  • Posted on: 07/29/2022

    Will the ‘Credit Card Competition Act’ lead to lower prices for retailers and consumers?

    First of all, let's see if it passes. The Credit Card OGs have a lot of money and a lot of friends. If it does pass, it certainly should result in lower swipe fees which some retailers will pass along and others will pocket.
  • Posted on: 07/29/2022

    Kohl’s throws back with Levi’s

    Kohl's needs to find its own voice. If that aligns with deals like that with Levi's ... great. I'm just not sure how many retro Hip Hop shoppers are going to flock to Kohl's or even how effective the SilverTab line will be anywhere.
  • Posted on: 07/28/2022

    Will the ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ model overcome economic and regulatory challenges?

    In a word ... YES!!!!! It's impossible to answer the second question with any reasonable degree of certitude at this point when one pandemic isn't over and another may be beginning, and we are in the middle of a recession nobody wants to call a recession, and the Fed keeps raising interest rates to stave off inflation, and Germany has announced it will be cutting down ammonia production to conserve natural gas which -- combined with an uncertain timeline for the war in the Ukraine and ongoing climate change could radically reduce the amount of available food and its cost, etc., etc. Too many variables. If you are a glass half empty sort of person you might say people will be struggling to buy groceries and put gas in their cars and so the high-ticket consumer goods market may not want to be in the finance business, even assuming there is still demand for its products.
  • Posted on: 07/28/2022

    Are mobile devices creating connected store associates yet?

    Mobile devices facilitate service, they aren't a magic wand for fixing poor service. That takes training. With all due respect to the sponsors of the survey who clearly have not a dog, but a whole hound pack in the game, being able to do the wrong thing faster doesn't necessary improve the customer experience. The future significance of any retail technology depends on the retail context, how well associates are trained, and how consumers respond to it.
  • Posted on: 07/28/2022

    Best Buy cuts forecast in glass half full announcement

    Last year was an anomaly, as was the year before. And, America is a much different place than it was before the pandemic, so benchmarking off pre-pandemic patterns doesn't make much sense. As to what Best Buy should do, I'd advise getting even closer to the consumer and holding on with both hands.
  • Posted on: 07/27/2022

    Will marketers hit a home run or strike out with MLB’s uniform ads?

    I have to admit I have a highly subjective, admittedly irrational, point of view on this question -- it makes me gag. First we had uniforms du jour to boost merchandise sales. Then we got official gambling sponsors -- not to mention over and under coverage on post-game shoes -- for a sport that barred Pete Rose from its Hall of Fame because he bet on games. Now they want to turn uniform sleeves into the sartorial equivalent of a NASCAR hood? Enough! Look, if I was an owner or somebody with bottom line growth responsibilities for a team, I'd be online and on the phone 24/7 seeking out sponsors. But as a fam of my beleaguered Detroit Tigers, I just want to see a game, not more brand messaging.
  • Posted on: 07/27/2022

    Grocers and food brands take older consumers for granted

    Georganne is right. Age is the final discriminatory frontier. When Millennials speak of inclusion older folks are almost always excluded. Check out the news and you'll see almost daily discussions around upward age limits for elected officials. America is and maybe always has been a youth oriented culture. When the Boommers -- now a punch line for Gen Z humor -- were young, one other mantras was, "Don't trust anyone over 30." Great idea ... if you don't plan on living past 30 yourself. And that's the problem. With any luck, people get old -- assuming you accept the idea that 50 is old, which I don't. Age is as much a state of mind and health as it is an indiction that people are passed their sell-by date. So, while "old" now describes Boomers and some Gen Xers, it will soon describe Millennials, Gen Z, the Alphas, and whoever comes after them. And, it's an age cohort that still has a lot of money, so ignoring/insulting them is a seriously poor retail strategy. Time to invite older employees and customers to the "inclusion table" but first acknowledging them and then listening to what they say they want.
  • Posted on: 07/27/2022

    Can Walmart roll back inflation?

    Walmart is the canary in the retail coal mine, a leading indicator of things to come. The company is clearly bearish when it comes to the impact of the economy on consumers. When a star retailer is worried, all retailers should be worried. Markdowns by Walmart and/or anyone else aren't going to stop the impact of inflation. That's the job of the Federal Reserve. All the discounts are is a financial Band Aid on an amputated economic limb.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2022

    Best Buy offers a new way to shop with its first-ever digital-first small box store

    Since the Service Merchandise example has already been analyzed at length by my fellow Braintrusters, I'll just say it was also the first thing I thought of. The second thing I thought of was that Best Buy's advantage is the non-commissioned, ostensibly objective retail associates walking you through a solution that works best for you. Which is more important to shoppers? I guess we'll soon know.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2022

    Will Target’s ‘stores-as-hubs’ strategy get turbocharged by sortation centers?

    Obviously, it is working for Target or they wouldn't be expanding the program. As to becoming overly reliant on Shipt -- or any third party delivery service -- I'm little more bearish since you are building a potential vulnerability into a critical segment of the supply chain.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2022

    How important are founders to brand authenticity?

    First of all, falling back on founders' stories can backfire, particularly in these "woke" times. Many brand founders weren't all that nice or admirable, especially in the harsh light of hindsight. So telling an "authentic" founder story may actually hurt some brands. Also, in the majority of cases, people don't care about the founder. Does knowing that the Kellogg brothers advocated frequent enemas and celibacy, even in marriage, make Corn Flakes more or less attractive? My point is that, in this case, the founder story is less important than say taste or nutritional considerations. Want to celebrate the original Mr. Smucker? Great! But, those examples are few and far between.
  • Posted on: 07/25/2022

    When will supply chains return to normal?

    More predictable supply chains are far different from, "life in the good old days." There are simply too many variables today -- COVID variants, Monkey Pox, the Ukraine, impact of Climate Change, and the stability of the Middle East -- to answer this question with any accuracy. That said, I'm bearish in terms of timing.
  • Posted on: 07/25/2022

    Lowe’s gives full-time store staff the option of a four-day work week

    My money is on folks loving a four-day work week. The answer to the second question is how you shape the offer. If it is a one time (reviewable) option it should present no challenge to labor scheduling, If it is a matter of opting in and out at will, it will create chaos.
  • Posted on: 07/25/2022

    Are digital-only coupons discriminatory against the elderly and poor?

    Yes, they do discriminate in practice, but the question is, is that deliberate or just the results of entitled folk assuming everyone is just like them in terms of access to technology? I suspect it isn't the former. As to how to correct this, how 'bout an in-store kiosk that allows the non-connected to easily access digital offers?

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