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: 06/02/2020

    Nordstrom crushes inventory optimization

    Inventory agility is critical in the months ahead. Not every retailer has the same options available to them that Nordstrom does, but all of them would be well advised to reduce standing inventories.
  • Posted on: 06/02/2020

    Do retailers need to go beyond ‘reopening playbooks’?

    Playbooks are helpful, but no match for human irrationality. Even though we are still locked down in Michigan people are walking around unmasked en masse, garage sales are starting to open up, and I see more people walking into stores without masks, without observing social distancing rules, etc. Thirty minutes is a lot of time for contagion to spread, so how comfortable are customers concerned about COVID-19 ever going to be in those McDonald's restaurants or knowing it's been a half an hour since the person touching their food washed their hands? Bottom line: it all depends on what happens. If people start dying again we have one scenario. If they don't, we'll see.
  • Posted on: 06/02/2020

    Will dollar stores be the biggest post-COVID-19 winners?

    It all depends on what happens in the months ahead -- something none of us know. If the economy continues to crater and unemployment remains high, the answer is yes. If there is a "recovery surge" with all the pent-up demand Trumpian economists predict, may not so much. If there is a second peak to this wave of the pandemic or a second wave of pandemic in the fall that creates additional lockdowns they will do well. As to the second question: curate inventory, lower prices, improve access.
  • Posted on: 06/01/2020

    Retail ensnared in nationwide protests

    Nailed it Bob. After 400 years of social contracts not worth the bad paper they are written on, trust is understandably hard to establish.
  • Posted on: 06/01/2020

    Is the REI/West Elm collaboration a win-win?

    As I am (overly) fond of saying, the devil is in the execution. On paper this collaboration makes sense for all the reasons Ben Ball and others suggest. But ultimately it will be the consumer who decides whether this is an idea that looks as good in practice as it does in theory.
  • Posted on: 06/01/2020

    Is it safe to bring back food sampling?

    Too many unknowns here to make a clear judgement. What will Costco's -- or others' -- sampling plans look like? What will the pandemic look like, i.e., will the virus mutate in a way that will allow it to be foodborne? Will there be another Wave I peak? Will there be a Wave II? What do you do about masks and social distancing? So at this point a good guess would be that risks potentially outweigh rewards. As to what the solution is, you can't solve a problem you can't define.
  • Posted on: 06/01/2020

    Retail ensnared in nationwide protests

    I think most retailers and brands -- while spouting all the predictable progressive platitudes about inclusion, commitment to community and employees, and regrets for the, "tragic incident," which has launched the latest in a series of waves of protest by Black Americans over -- among other things -- police racial violence, are as superficial as they are ineffective. This is not all the result of the murder, yes, murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department -- horrific as it was. It's about the 428 years of murder, rape, theft, poverty, false arrest, denial of educational opportunities, segregation, voter suppression, terror, discrimination, exploitation, etc. that have happened since Sir John Hawkins, Captain of the Jesus of Lubeck (better known as the Good Ship Jesus) brought the first African slaves to the New World in 1592. "We" are not going to be "stronger" for George Floyd's murder, because the majority of Americans don't have to worry about their sons or daughters being pulled over and murdered by the police for the crime of breathing while Black. If Corporate America wants to get serious about helping ease racial tensions, it needs to begin by acknowledging that institutional racism is woven straight through the fabric of American culture. No one -- White, Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, or Blue -- is immune to it. Prejudice is the belief that someone is different (read inferior) on the basis of the color of their skin. Racism is the desire to believe somebody is different because they aren't the same color we do. Prejudice can be overcome by experience and education. Racism? Not so much. The only way to understand how we can build back to where we ought to be as a society is to do what the Sheriff of Genesee County, Michigan did yesterday. Get into the streets, drop the accoutrements of violence -- the batons and the riot gear -- and walk and talk with the protestors on their own terms and on their own turf. They don't call towers "ivory" by accident.
  • Posted on: 05/08/2020

    How should indie retailers prepare to reopen under the now normal?

    It all depends on what form of retail they are engaged in, how many markets they operate in, and where those markets are located. Best practices for a hat shop in Wyoming are a lot different than a bodega in the middle of Brooklyn. So the first, obvious step is to make sure you are in compliance with all existing and emergency regulations and guidelines. The other ideas outlined in the article are all "need to do" rather than "nice to do." I guess my "add" would be that it is more critical to take care of your associates -- even at the expense of your customers. If customers are expected to wear masks, they ought to be compelled to wear a mask, gloves, whatever or not allowed in. This not only will make associates feel more secure, it will make compliant customers feel more secure. Bottom line: don't be afraid to lose a few if it helps you secure the majority. The other piece that is missing here is crafting the right tone and messaging to consumers BEFORE you reopen, and reinforcing your messaging in-store.
  • Posted on: 05/08/2020

    Will mall owner’s $5 billion revitalize retailers weakened by COVID-19?

    Obviously, the program was created to benefit Brookfield in the short and long terms. With traditional "anchor" tenants like J.C. Penney and Macy's in potential trouble moving forward, and more business moving online, mall operators are going to have to rely on (relatively) smaller retailers for survival. Also, taking an ownership position in various retail companies helps lock them into longer term leases they might not otherwise sign. And, finally, some of these businesses are going to leave malls to other free-standing locations, giving Brookfield the opportunity to buy larger shares or maximize their investment by selling off their positions.
  • Posted on: 05/08/2020

    Gap plans move into non-apparel categories

    Gap moving into other categories is a bit like a hoarder moving into their garage because their house is uninhabitable. If you are having trouble engaging your core, target customer how likely is it you'll be successful crafting offerings to consumers in categories where you have never competed? Diversification is too often the refuge of last resort for underperforming companies. Honestly, I'm not sure diversification will help any of them, at least based on what we know today.
  • Posted on: 05/07/2020

    Is curbside pickup just getting started?

    Ben, my brother, I think you may have missed a nuance here. You've actually put your finger directly on the problem. Yes, that is what used to happen ... on your schedule. You parked where you could, went in the store when you wanted, and, eventually, you put the stuff in your trunk. The difference here is that all that flexibility has been taken out of the current model. You have to pre-order -- sometimes days in advance -- secure a pick-up time slot, park in certain pre-arranged pick-up zones -- too small to meet demand in many, many stores, hence the time slotting issue, and then wait for someone to pop the groceries in your trunk. So, like so much at retail, what I'm addressing isn't the theory, it's the execution.
  • Posted on: 05/07/2020

    Nordstrom focuses on seamless shopping as stores reopen

    Comparatively speaking? Nordstrom is lapping the pack in terms of creating seamless or frictionless shopping. Little argument there. But Nordstrom customers are used to ultra-high levels of personalized service, and that's going to be tricky to deliver through masks and gloves when you are standing six feet away from a shopper. Some being comparatively better than mediocre performers just isn't good enough. Nordstrom is going to have to work very hard to find the right service formula or it may find itself another COVID-19 casualty. That said, the company has earned a well-deserved reputation for solving problems other retailers have found intractable, so I wouldn't ever count them out. But this is a new (and not necessarily brave) world for all retailers and, with the competitive playing field leveled in large part by the pandemic, it could be anybody's game.
  • Posted on: 05/07/2020

    Is curbside pickup just getting started?

    I hate to be cynical here, but curbside pickup needs to grow up before it can grow out. Scheduling is still a hassle. Substitutions are still problematic. And parking lots are not configured to be loading docks. So if curbside pick-up is the "next big thing" post-COVID, there will have to be lots of changes in physical stores to make it work at scale. Customers will put up with a few hiccups now if it keeps them out of public spaces, but if, or when, we enter a post-COVID period, they are going to go back to demanding pre-COVID service levels.
  • Posted on: 05/07/2020

    Is it time to move beyond ‘now more than ever’ COVID-19 commercials?

    So ... faux compassion has jumped the shark, and it's time to get back to business. Is that the idea? Well, while I know science and medicine are out of fashion these days, branders need to be very, very careful. The COVID-19 "curve" has "flattened" -- not disappeared. Lots more people are going to get sick. Lots more people are going to die. And even if there is no viral surge after reopening -- and that's a big "if" -- almost every serious expert anticipates a second flare-up this fall or next spring. Saying the wrong thing is almost always worse than saying nothing, so branders shouldn't proclaim they are "reopened for business" -- the next predictable cliche marketing meme -- until the bodies stop dropping, we develop some effective COVID-19 palliative care, and/or we develop a vaccine that actually works. If I were a marketer, I'd tread very lightly until the path forward comes into better definition.
  • Posted on: 05/06/2020

    Auction winner will get to pitch products to Walmart’s CEO

    I hate the idea of an auction, since it lets the most well-funded, not necessarily best or most innovative, idea win. But, some variation on this theme has real possibilities. They just need to balance the auctioning off with a little meritocratic thinking.

Contact Ryan

  • Apply to be a BrainTrust Panelist

  • Please briefly describe your qualifications — specifically, your expertise and experience in the retail industry.
  • By submitting this form, I give you permission to forward my contact information to designated members of the RetailWire staff.

    See RetailWire's privacy policy for more information about what data we collect and how it is used.