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: 03/17/2017

    Will Uniqlo beat Zara with speed and customer focus?

    Zara clearly has prime mover advantage and Uniglo has already made some serious missteps so I guess I'd have to give the nod to Zara. But, that said, they are pitching toward very different markets so there is no reason to believe that -- if Uniqlo can actually course correct -- there isn't room for both of them.
  • Posted on: 03/17/2017

    Should retailers obsess about e-mail blast timing?

    I'm in the pro-content category. To be effective your email needs a great headline and hopefully an intriguing offer. Otherwise it's just spam -- no matter what day or what time you send it.
  • Posted on: 03/17/2017

    Are Amazon’s boxes prime ad real estate?

    Just because you can doesn't mean you should ... or if you feel compelled to, you shouldn't be promiscuous about it. The occasional (non-Echo) messaging on an Amazon box makes a statement. Using those boxes as mini-billboards means they'll get slightly less attention than traditional direct mail did. If I were Amazon I'd limit the usage, charge a fortune for it and donate the proceeds to charity. The last thing any shopper needs is more unwanted messaging inside or outside of the packages they receive.
  • Posted on: 03/16/2017

    What will Walmart do with its newest acquisition, ModCloth?

    To me, culture is the issue. The acquisition itself makes sense. The clothes seems like they will fit the Walmart shopper's lifestyle and taste, it probably expands their customer base a little in the right direction and it helps further round out their digital portfolio. But ... that still leaves the culture issue. It's too early to say definitively but it will be interesting to see if Walmart builds two cultural models -- one traditional, the other more digitally-oriented in attitude, thinking and work roles and rules. That might work although it leaves you with the "us and them" problem. Forcing digital folks to think like brick-and-mortar retailers probably isn't a good idea and I'm not sure reversing the cultural model works much better. But Walmart is resilient, so maybe they will be the first retailer to create a true multi-channel culture. If they are, they will be even harder to stop.
  • Posted on: 03/16/2017

    Can UPS fly past Amazon in drone delivery?

    Can we be practical for just a minute? If UPS gets a drone fleet, FedEx will follow quickly with its own drone air force. Then if the Amazon idea is really anything more than a way to keep stirring the competitive pot and getting free media attention, we add their delivery squadrons. Then if the USPS gets involved with their drones ... well ... the sky will be full of drones, accidents will inevitably happen, somebody will be hurt or killed and the Drone Wars will come to a crashing (sorry, couldn't help it) halt. The answer to the last mile problem is probably not to have a sky full of packages parachuting down on unsuspecting citizens as they try to go about their business. So UPS can try to gain competitive advantage but unless they can monopolize access to drone flight routes it won't give them a sustainable advantage. If there is going to be a clear "winner" in this space it will be a company that develops a proprietary last mile solution that -- in some way -- can't be cloned by the competition. Drones just don't fit into that category.
  • Posted on: 03/16/2017

    Does Neiman Marcus make sense for Hudson’s Bay?

    Well ... it makes more sense to me than the Macy's deal. That said, I may be in the Mark Cohen camp on this one. It all depends on what you define as the critical issue. As wealth continues to polarize in America -- a trend we can trust will only accelerate over the next four years -- the luxury market becomes simultaneously smaller and more valuable. But are the mega-rich going to support Neiman or are they too going to shop the Internet -- augmented by the odd trip to Paris or Milan? Hard to say. A handful of stores catering to high-end luxury shoppers might work, but you would still be fighting the future of consumer purchase technologies like personal digital shoppers. And if Hudson's Bay thinks there is a market there, wouldn't it be more cost effective just to build a few boutique stores? You really face a similar problem if you think the issue is infrastructure and poor technology adoption and integration. You can fix the systems, but not the shoppers. There is no evidence that we are ever going to see a mass exodus away from digital retailing in the foreseeable future, so any retail acquisition has to be very carefully thought through. Physical retailing may not quite be the Titanic yet, as Cohen suggests, but the floors of the staterooms are getting uncomfortably damp.
  • Posted on: 03/15/2017

    Does Macy’s incoming CEO have a plan to turn the business around?

    Look, I think Macy's is a troubled brand that really screams for a relaunch. I don't think reducing service and cutting price (and therefore margins) is necessarily the right path to that relaunch. Over time Macy's has fallen into a retail funk -- not high-end anymore and yet too fussy to be a good low-end retailer. I think the company needs to pick a strategy and stick to it. Stocking $80 Ralph Lauren polo shirts across the aisle from price-slashed private label goods isn't a particularly effective way to capture fashionistas or bargain hunters.I'm not sure what I'd advise before I could take a look at some hard customer data, but there are positions out there -- a more accessible Nordstrom for example, or a focused retail-control brand backed up by great design. Nothing is going to work until somebody at Macy's peels off all the Band-Aids and looks at the wounds. The chain needs a 21st century focus and until it finds one, all the discounting and service slashing in the world isn't going to help.
  • Posted on: 03/15/2017

    Will AI transform retail marketing?

    Ultimately I see AI transforming life -- including retail marketing. If Mark Cuban was correct in his remarks at SXSW this past Sunday we are going to see the world's first trillionaires created as AI applications flood the market. As to the second question, I think it's the wrong question, or at least only a partially correct question. There are at least four levels of AI: pure reactive systems like IBM's old Deep Blue; limited range systems like self-driving cars; consciously unaware systems -- think R2D2; and truly conscious systems -- think science fiction movies. Each level has its own limitations and is therefore better able to address certain tasks. It would be a huge mistake to confuse what AI is good at today -- inventory management, personalized marketing, some customer service applications -- with what retail applications it will be able to master tomorrow. So I'd say this is one area where it is better to focus on the future rather than the present -- especially if you are a retailer. As they say, we ain't seen nothing yet.
  • Posted on: 03/15/2017

    How will AmazonFresh Pickup stores affect the grocery business?

    First of all ... a little perspective. Amazon has used pickups as a way of circumventing delivery costs in markets like Tokyo for years, so it's not exactly a new idea -- even for them. Second, the grocery market share projected for e-tailers has never reflected actual performance. One can project all they want. Me? I'd like to see hard sales data, not projections. Finally, I expect some other grocers will panic in the face of Amazon's moves -- assuming of course they actually move past a beta test and become sustainable retail fixtures -- but they shouldn't. There is a direct relationship between volume and cost at work here. The higher the value of grocery goods Amazon sells, the higher their cost structure climbs. The higher their cost structure climbs, the more inclined they will be to pass those costs on to the consumer. The higher the cost to the consumer, the smaller the effective target market becomes. So ... could they become the fifth largest U.S. grocer? Anything is possible, but let's wait for a few more facts.
  • Posted on: 03/13/2017

    Are retailers ‘blind’ to digital marketing’s flaws?

    I think retailers need to figure out where their customers are -- physically and digitally -- and advertise accordingly. We are way past the days when one could seriously suggest there is a magic wand or secret formula out there that guarantees success. Retailers have to stop grabbing every bright and shiny thing that comes along. It takes research, facts and innovative strategies to create a successful ad program today -- but it all starts by deepening your understanding of your target customer.
  • Posted on: 03/13/2017

    Will ‘Fearless Girl’ lead to more women on retail company boards?

    What's holding women back? In a word -- men! Retail is still largely a good old boys club where misogyny reins supreme. Proof point? We really think 50 inches of bronze is going to alert C-suite executives that women exist or make them feel so guilty and ashamed of themselves that they change hiring and promotion policy over night. Really? The most effective way to change corporate behavior is to boycott companies with the most regressive personnel policies. Hitting men in the wallet is generally more effective than appealing to their progressive sense of ethics.
  • Posted on: 03/13/2017

    Has the retail industry’s real estate bubble burst?

    We knew there was too much retail real estate out there before e-commerce sales began in the early 1990s. There were too many stores and too much square footage inside many stores. The "bubble" -- if it in fact is a bubble -- has been about 50 years in the making. While the housing crisis centered on financing demand, the retail real estate crisis has its origins in expansionism and greed. The idea was if you had all the desirable space your competition couldn't attack you. That worked OK until retailers faced competition from retailers who had no need for physical space at all. The solutions are easier said than done. If you are overstored, cut locations. If your stores are too big -- adjust them down. The real estate expansion has never been about actual need -- it's been about grabbing market share and, for public companies, showing the analysts that business must be good because you are expanding. It's past time for logic to start driving the process but, as I said, that's easier said than done.
  • Posted on: 02/15/2017

    Zappos takes to the road to connect with consumers

    Of course, it all depends on how you define "enough" but, yes, this kind of activity builds excitement, rewards loyalists and maybe even converts a few skeptics. The primary place pure digital players have to connect is obviously online, but I see nothing wrong with a little physical flag waving now and then.
  • Posted on: 02/15/2017

    Will having the same buyers for online and stores work for Walmart?

    There are clearly differences in digital and physical fulfillment, but fewer in the buying function itself. If you really believe you need to be channel agnostic, why not have a single buying contact?
  • Posted on: 02/15/2017

    Is Amazon the most innovative company in retailing?

    I might agree that Amazon is one of the few genuinely innovative retailers today, especially if you define innovation as the desire to try new things without fear of embarrassment. Amazon is relentless -- and very public -- about its experiments with new platforms, supply chain innovations and uses of other retail technologies. Can't think of anyone else quite like them.

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