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: 01/18/2021

    Walmart’s CEO details his journey to racial awareness

    You can't solve a problem until you admit you have one. Then you need to get to the root causes of the issue. Prejudice is the belief that one race is superior or inferior. Racism is the desire to believe one race is superior or inferior. You can reduce prejudice through education, life experience, etc. It is much, much harder to eliminate racism. Like it or not, American society is institutionally racist. Students of all races are taught the same racist version of history. Black fine artists and writers are still seen as a "special class" of artists and writers. While I salute Doug McMillon's personal journey -- and I certainly hope it included several visits to The National Memorial For Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama -- the move to make white America aware of the role and contribution of Black America has been active since at least the 1960s with the establishment of modern, formal Black History programs. Over 50 years later and most of white America have no clue about the men, women, and events that shaped race relations in this country. Better late than never? Sure, but late nevertheless. Handing out a few contracts to so-called "minority" firms is a baby-step in a marathon. White American business needs to begin to come to grips with the fact that it will soon represent a minority and that those people it still thinks of as "minorities" are, in reality, a collective emergent majority.
  • Posted on: 01/18/2021

    Does a Staples/Office Depot merger now make more sense?

    It wouldn't be a merger, it would be an acquisition, and likely one intended as a relatively short investment as opposed to trying to lay a solid foundation for a viable business. Does it make "more sense" post-COVID-19? I guess from an antitrust standpoint since both companies are weaker. From a retail perspective, I'm not so sure. After all, two failing companies do not one healthy company make. As to the last question, it seems that the B2B business is a fairly lost cause at this point since e-tailers can obviously service that business better than brick and mortar operators. So, the future looks to be B2C -- which probably explains the willingness to jettison it in order to make the FTC happy. Is there a future for a large footprint chain of B2C only office superstores? It will take some real innovative thinking, thinking we haven't seen any of to date.
  • Posted on: 01/15/2021

    NRF 2021: Retailers make an appointment with the future

    Shopping by appointment will have a limited - but potentially lucrative - life post-COVID-19. I totally agree this will only work for high-end shoppers in certain categories. I can see the "No appointment necessary" ads from more conventional retailers already. Some people will like the sense of privilege associated with a one-on-one high-end shopping experience, just not when then are buying house paint. It won't be for everyone, or even a substantial segment of anyone - but on the very highest end of retailing it may be a very profitable niche for a limited, but lucrative, consumer segment.
  • Posted on: 01/15/2021

    Will paying associates to get COVID-19 vaccines work for Dollar General and Trader Joe’s?

    I think compensation offers won't significantly change the absolute rate of vaccine acceptance among employees. Those that want the vaccine will get it and pocket the money. Antivaxxers won't take it no matter what (within reason) you offer them. As to managing employees, let's look at the vaccination requirements already in place. Several incarnations ago, when I was bartending during and after graduate school, I was required to maintain a valid health card. In order to get the card, I had to demonstrate that I had a number of vaccinations, including the ever popular tetanus shot. No shot, no card. No card, no work. And it wasn't my employer (technically) who insisted on it, it was a state law. If you want to think of a work around objections to vaccinations, pass a law that says everyone working in retail must be current on their COVID-19 shots. If it's a matter of personal choice, employers simply have no power of coercion to force vaccination compliance.
  • Posted on: 01/15/2021

    Would a effort help indy retailers compete with the online giant?

    It all depends on the category and the execution. does this for independent bookstores and specifically targets Amazon. And the indie booksellers I know seem to feel it is moving the needle in their direction. But let's face it, there is a lot more to Amazon than just inventory and there is already a significant "Buy Local" movement in most major cities. So could something like work in America? I guess, if it combined a "values proposition" with a value proposition.
  • Posted on: 01/14/2021

    Which emerging tech will transform marketing this year?

    First of all, I think the sample base here is a.) a bit thin and b.) suffers a bit from the "echo chamber effect," i.e., people may be talking about what they hear other people talking about. For example, I'd love to talk to the 32 folks who think blockchain is going to make the largest impact on marketing strategy in 2021. I think the right answer is more likely going to be found in more natural interface technologies and improved software/algorithm development. It isn't that we need more technologies this year, we need our existing technologies to perform better.
  • Posted on: 01/14/2021

    7-Elevens could be destined to undergo a konbinification

    I actually think a konbini-style format might work but as a second banner (e.g., 7-Eleven Plus). By setting up a second banner the chain could quickly advance any brand image it wants without necessarily introducing significant erosion to the Slurpee and cigarettes crowd. This would also help mitigate the franchisee problem. Franchisees who wanted to invest in the new format could do so and the rest could operate on a business-as-usual basis. It would require some clever marketing, but I think a dual-format approach could work.
  • Posted on: 01/14/2021

    Is Amazon on its way to becoming America’s favorite grocer?

    The biggest winners? Hard to say, other than anecdotally with our hard data, but I'd love to see Costco's numbers. My guess is that companies like H-E-B, Wegmans, and Trader Joe's which had great connections to their customer bases pre-COVID-19 fared better during the pandemic. But, again, without firm numbers it's little more than a gut check. As to Amazon, if maintaining its pandemic rate of growth is measured in dollars I suspect we'll see a slight slide when/if the pandemic passes. But if we are speaking in a broader sense meaning will its penetration of the grocery market will continue to grow, the answer is, yes.
  • Posted on: 01/13/2021

    Will contactless Hudson Nonstop concept stores take off in airports?

    I too think this is the wave of the future, for a variety of reasons. That said, it seems to be better suited to routine purchases than say, luxury goods transactions.
  • Posted on: 01/13/2021

    What leadership lessons have retailers learned during the pandemic?

    The simple answer is: Trust peoples' reactions in the moment more than traditional, institutional responses and get out of your employees' way. I'd answer the second question, but I hear much more about employee empowerment than I actually see.
  • Posted on: 01/13/2021

    Walmart to deliver groceries to temp-controlled smart boxes at customers’ homes

    I knew Tim and the Streamline folks very well, so I'm pretty familiar with why it didn't work. One of the problems is that when you put temperature controlled boxes in a garage, a scary number of consumers run into them with their cars, lawnmowers, snowblowers, etc., etc. Streamline also hit "last mile" and cost walls, both of which have been mitigated a bit by time. The real issue is, are garages "trending" (Roughly 40% of American live without garages and/or carports), and what do you do in urban cores where apartments are more prevalent? As to the cost question, that's a math problem -- categories of goods shipped, volume, route consolidation opportunities, etc.
  • Posted on: 01/12/2021

    Do sampled freebies drive loyalty?

    A "free sample" of data isn't the same thing as a free cookie. Not sure I know what to say here other than why would you give a sample away that is 15 times more expensive than its unit cost? Would you spend $15 to "sample" $1 bills? Anyway, I'm not quite sure how the front and back of the article work together. A more interesting question might be, "What is the future of sampling in a post-COVID-19 world?"
  • Posted on: 01/12/2021

    Will becoming a fintech powerhouse make Walmart an even more formidable retailer?

    When you are Walmart the problem is, how do you invent the equivalent of a small new industry every year to keep the analysts happy? It's the old rule: There are only two ways to make money at retail - sell stuff to more people, or sell more stuff to the people you have. I'm not sure where Walmart is going to find "more people" without jeopardizing its base business, so the only option is to find new things to sell to their existing customers. Will it work? Who knows. Will others copy it? Probably only Amazon, somewhere down the road.
  • Posted on: 01/12/2021

    Convenience retailers aren’t letting the pandemic get them down

    I think in the short term c-stores have benefitted from the pandemic because they are, well, convenient and simpler to shop. The problem is going to be achieving and/or surpassing comp store sales once the pandemic has passed and life returns to what we laughingly call normal. I think the greatest future opportunities are still where they were pre-COVID-19: fresh, CBD products, and prepared foods.
  • Posted on: 01/11/2021

    What will drive consumer tech sales in 2021?

    After every peak there is a valley. Last year many consumers stocked up on the kinds of technology they needed if they were lucky enough to be able to work from home. At the same time, sitting around the house all day many shoppers invested in DIY home improvement projects including upgrading their "domestic technologies." But, you don't buy a new laptop or install a new smart home system every year, so customers that fueled the market may not buy much other than printer cartridges for the next year. I think you'll seem more voice-activated technologies this year and more system integration and technology management devices sold this year as people try to streamline and improve what they bought last year.

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