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: 08/23/2016

    Why is Apple dropping ‘Store’ from the name of its stores?

    Ian, you make a subtle but critical point here. Millennials, for example, have developed a form of nonverbal, digital community based on proximity -- geographic or ideological. Doubt this? Go to any Pokemon Go stop and observe a nonverbal digital community at work. The kind of complex relationships that community is built on don't necessarily require traditional signals of socialization. Just being there means you are in the club.
  • Posted on: 08/22/2016

    Will Amazon drive-up grocery stores disrupt food retailing?

    Totally agree — provided those external incentives are mitigated by an even greater internal commitment to change. Of course you have to react to competitive activity, but you can't let your competitors set your strategy. The rise of Walmart, Amazon.com., et. al. was fueled by a potent combination of denial and over-reaction — in the end, a heady blend but not very effective counter strategies.
  • Posted on: 08/22/2016

    Will Amazon drive-up grocery stores disrupt food retailing?

    I respectfully disagree with my old friend Ron here, admittedly a rare occurrence. I'd argue that much of what is wrong at retail starts with the adoption of reactionary, rather than innovative strategies. Reacting to what competition does with the furtive logic of a paranoid meth head isn't necessarily the same thing as finding creative approaches to meeting the ever-changing demands of shoppers. How about blazing new trails rather than waiting for a competitor to move first and then having to figure out how to play catchup? How about finding better ways to communicate directly with customers and turning those insights into innovative offerings and practices instead of waiting for somebody, or some thing to disrupt a market? Sure, a little fear of competition is always a strong stimulant, but it's never an adequate substitute for fresh, original thinking. Looking over your shoulder is one way to meet shopper demands, but it's hardly the "only" one.
  • Posted on: 08/22/2016

    Is on-site childcare the key to cutting employee turnover?

    As both Max and Ian have noted, the answer to this question depends on how serious retail is about becoming a true 21st century profession. That road starts with acknowledging the obvious -- that employees are human assets, not financial liabilities. Obviously, businesses with committed employees function better, and generally more profitably, than those who view labor strictly in terms of cost. If, as an employer, you really value your employees you should begin addressing quality of life and stress reduction issues as well as just wages and benefits. And, for working parents, nothing is more stressful than childcare. So solve the issues surrounding parenting and childcare and you ought to have happier, more productive workers.Now the caveat. There is a world of difference between the high-tech enabled, super-clean childcare facilities found in Silicon Valley and a converted break room run by a teenage minder earning minimum wage. Watching over someone's children requires a serious commitment and carries a tremendous responsibility. If, as an employer, you aren't prepared to fully address all the issues associated with proper childcare, I'd suggest not adopting halfway measures that could potentially jeopardize any child's health and/or safety and, by extension, your company. Childcare in business, as in life, requires a full commitment.
  • Posted on: 08/22/2016

    Will Amazon drive-up grocery stores disrupt food retailing?

    Let's exercise a little perspective here. First, there is not clear evidence that this is -- or will be -- a grocery pickup location. Just because they are using the same architect doesn't mean he or she is designing the same kind of building. Secondly, Amazon frequently experiments with ideas and, more frequently, files patent applications to garner free media coverage, intrigue its customers and make its competitors nervous. So in addition to not knowing what they are or aren't doing in San Francisco, we don't know if what they are testing will ever get to a beta stage. Third, "s" is the key consonant in the question. How likely is it they will open multiple locations to sell groceries? Not too likely at this point, at least if you are defining multiple as more than ten tests.I suppose we could get all carried away with the implications of Amazon trying to muscle into the food industry in a major way, but why don't we wait for a couple of more facts?
  • Posted on: 08/16/2016

    Are supermarkets digitally disconnected from retailing reality?

    I think grocers don't appreciate the difference between technology and culture -- and that's a major problem. There seems to be a leitmotif of belief out there that (culturally) we still live in the 1960s and that all that has changed are these technological add-ons. Too many grocers are worrying about "omnichannel," for example, without considering that the "omni" in "omnichannel" only refers to three interfaces -- physical, web and mobile -- in a world where wearables, voice activated technologies, the IoT and IoE, standalone smart devices and yes, soon, implants are all evolving "channels." Supermarketers are still trying to figure out a Facebook strategy in a world where people suffer psychological withdrawal if they are forced to unplug. It isn't just that things change, it's that the change is profound, deep and changes culture. If I were a grocer, that's what I'd be focusing at. The technology is just enabling structure, it isn't where the prime focus ought to be.
  • Posted on: 08/09/2016

    Is a ‘DARK’ cloud looming for brands over GMO labeling?

    Last word ... from me. I don't believe I have taken a position on the bill. I did take a position against for-profit certification which I have fairly consistently opposed in multiple discussions on multiple topics not remotely related to this one. So, sorry to disagree, but I'm not, in fact, disagreeing. The example you just used is a tad clearer than "nefarious" and — as a result — makes your point more effectively. I'm with Ian on this though, if you want "pure" food in today's world, it's safer to turn to move produced off the land. Also, I don't believe I ever said — or suggested — the law was principled. That would assume that politicians and regulators are honest — something I never believe in any case. If it got passed in a political environment, it is de facto corrupt in my book. Oh, sorry, I was disagreeing again.
  • Posted on: 08/09/2016

    Is a ‘DARK’ cloud looming for brands over GMO labeling?

    Ian, must be something in the water. You are right again. "Technology" is a word Luddites use to frighten the kids. New food production technologies — hydroponics, vertical farming, etc., etc. — could go a long way to improving the quality of the food available to all. Although, Ken is right on one point. To paraphrase William Gibson, "Enough food is already here, it's just not evenly distributed," or of even quality as you pointed out.
  • Posted on: 08/09/2016

    Is a ‘DARK’ cloud looming for brands over GMO labeling?

    Ian — totally agree! And, sadly — and I do mean sadly — that is exactly what it takes to prevent cross-contamination with GMO seed. That's why my hackles jump to attention when people suggest the certification of a field solves the problem. This just is not realistic at least as long as there are insects, birds, animals and wind. This is a real problem that demands clear thinking and careful action — not just rhetoric and reaction. Interesting to me that so many "advocates" on this issue really undersell its complexity. Glad you chimed in. Thanks, as always.
  • Posted on: 08/09/2016

    Is a ‘DARK’ cloud looming for brands over GMO labeling?

    Ken, still don't know what nefarious language is, but I'll let that pass. For the record my point wasn't that Whole Foods does not carry GMO products but exactly — as you correctly point out — that its marketing hype would lead shoppers to believe they don't. Hence, since Hell hath no fury like a shopper scorned, they are, in my opinion, more likely to incur the wrath of advocacy groups precisely because their hype doesn't live up to the reality. Their shopper base is, at least self-styled, advocates who are likely to react more aggressively to the notion of genetic betrayal than say, Walmart's. That was my whole point. As to all the colorful descriptors, I agree space is limited, all the more reason to be concrete.
  • Posted on: 08/09/2016

    Is a ‘DARK’ cloud looming for brands over GMO labeling?

    Look, this is an emotional issue. Just read the language of this article which uses words such as "nefarious language" and "usurping of state’s rights" and "potential time bomb" to make its case rather than explaining what the allegedly "nefarious" language was. Always easier to respond to fact than rhetoric, if admittedly often less fun. I think that Americans really don't understand the issue. There is scientific evidence -- something not always found in either the pro- or anti-GMO debates -- that GMO seed is being spread by birds into the most pristine of organic patches. So there is no real guarantee, in many cases, that any harvest, unless micro-scutinized, might not contain trace GMO product. That's for starters. I also don't buy the argument that the way to protect yourself from GMO product entering the supply chain is to subscribe to any for-profit certification system. Look what chemicals are put on "organic" products now. As to the question itself, presumably any manufacturer whose products use grains as ingredients would be in the first wave or targets. Ditto for users of soy beans and other frequently modified products.I'm not sure which retailers are the biggest targets, unless it is someone like Whole Foods who stakes their reputation on carrying no GMO products. No doubt they will be heavily scrutinized. But the real question is, is there this mass consumer movement against GMO product? Sure, on a survey people will say they would prefer their food to contain GMO-free ingredients, but does that change mass behavior? I'm just not sure. In today's world of social network-amplified advocacy the voice of one or two can have the apparent roar of millions, but I still don't see consumers rushing into Kroger and smashing products with the same élan the Green Party did in Europe during the 1990s. This smells more like marketing hype -- on all sides -- than mass movement outside of places like Vermont that have been ground zero in the GMO debate.As for response, what can a retailer do except not stock certain brands and/or products if the protests gain demonstrable strength? And many manufacturers are already trying to move away from GMO product in reaction -- or possibly over-reaction -- to anticipated mass boycotts. One thing is for sure, you can't argue science and objective fact. Nobody seems interested in listening to that.
  • Posted on: 08/09/2016

    Is retail being hurt by its tech gender gap?

    I agree that the retail industry -- and almost all industries for that matter -- has a problem hiring and advancing women in lots of jobs, particularly top and upper-middle management. Why? I think the cause might be institutional sexism. Let's look at this piece as an example. Here we read, "With women as retail’s primary buyer and purchase influencer ... " Hmm. So, given all the contemporary social and cultural change, we still believe that women should be looked at as the primary consumers in all retail categories and viewed differently from men who apparently don't buy for themselves in sufficient enough quantities to be taken seriously as shoppers? Or how about, " ... the importance of having the gender prominently working in marketing and merchandising roles has been widely acknowledged." "The gender" ... really? And, what does, "working prominently," mean? Seen, but not listened to? Bottom line: tech is a good old, (or in this case, more often young,) boys club, just like the rest of the country's businesses. How is it that women reach "just so far" in technology? The same reason that women's test scores in math decline with age -- men quit calling on them. Want to increase the number of women in top tech jobs? Start moving some of those boys out of those chairs.
  • Posted on: 08/05/2016

    Will labor scheduling upgrades make Walmart a better retailer?

    Ask me again in a year. The current system has bugs and all labor scheduling has a common problem -- customer traffic is never even measured on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, so letting employees set their schedules is no guarantee that you'll ever have the right number of workers on the floor at any given time. That's why, if we remember, we got to on-call scheduling in the first place. Is it realistic to assume Walmart will stick with a system that upsets shoppers in order to make employees happier? I think not. Is it realistic to assume it will stick with the system if sales begin to drop? Again, I doubt it. Does scheduling alone address Walmart's central labor issue -- paying associates a living wage and adequate benefits? Not sure I see how. Again, I'm willing to give the new system a year and see how it works in practice and over time, but I'm not holding my breath that it will end Walmart's labor woes.
  • Posted on: 08/05/2016

    Why is Target making nice with Amazon?

    Nice to see reality finally being acknowledged. Amazon is popular and if Target customers want its products then Target has to take the calculated risk and sell them. The biggest winners in all this are Target shoppers who now get access to another of their favorite brands. Amazon wins because it proves their market strength and Target wins because it gets to stop losing sales and upsetting customers. As to whether other retailers will follow, only if they are smart.
  • Posted on: 08/05/2016

    When should brands go down market?

    There's growth for one. There are only so many elite athletes in the world. Ditto for dedicated hobbyists. So if you are an athletic brand, and you want to grow, moving to lower-tier channels is almost inevitable. The most serious risk is obviously damage to brand reputation. If Orvis rods and reels were suddenly available at Walmart, how special would they be? And there is always the danger that purists and elitists will abandon an athletic brand when it is commonly seen on individuals whose exercise appears confined to raising a Big Gulp to their lips.That said, that hasn't hurt sales of, say, Harley-Davidson wear which is most often seen on people whose last experience on two wheels was on a bicycle. There's also the problem of maintaining price integrity which is why certain tiers of products may be available in all channels while the more high-end items may not. All that said, especially as in this case, expansion down is probably the only option.

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