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: 10/22/2021

    Amazon rolls out in-store pickup and local delivery for marketplace sellers

    Maybe not "game changing" today but all part of Amazon's strategy of building a commercial ecosystem that's hard to escape. I think any analysis of repercussions needs to start with thinking like Amazon -- always taking the long view even when the near term vision is a little opaque.
  • Posted on: 10/22/2021

    Could Crocs’ supply chain mitigation steps work for others?

    These are all good steps, but if I were forced to pick one I'd say production diversification since it protects the brand in both the short- and long-terms. Port diversification isn't as sexy as channel strategies, but it might find its way to Number Two on my list. And yes, I think all vendors and retailers who rely on offshore production should follow their example.
  • Posted on: 10/22/2021

    Are Macy’s plans sustainable?

    Sustainability is certainly a "nice to do" for Macy's. One could argue that it's not the biggest problem the chain faces. One could also argue that it is a "need to do," but - if that's the case - then it's just table stakes to compete and offers no long-term advantage or differentiation. Either way, it - at least by itself - isn't going to buy Macy's enough daylight to survive. If I look at the Macy's closest to my loft I see lots and lots of shoppers buying discounted goods, poor in-store merchandising, not enough associates in the store, etc. What I don't see are armies of eco-warriors clamoring for supply chain transparency. Those folks may be getting the attention, but they aren't Macy's target consumer.
  • Posted on: 10/21/2021

    What does Gen Z want?

    First, I don't believe that demography is destiny, nor do I believe that a kid growing up in New Canaan with a hedge fund manager for a mother and a private equity executive as a father shares much with a kid growing up in a lower income, single parent household in the central city of Detroit beyond an age cohort. So, it's arguable that Gen Z is a marketing construct that never mirrored reality. "They" care about the environment? So did the Boomers. I mean who created Earth Day? They demand authenticity? So did Boomers, and Gen X, and Gen Y (later Millennials). They want "organics"? So do Boomers, Xers, Millennials. Anyway, you get the point. So, the formula for driving loyalty and connecting with Gen Z is the same as it is for every cohort: know your customers as real, individual, human beings; respect them; encourage communication; listen more than talk; and execute on what you learn.
  • Posted on: 10/21/2021

    Walmart is ready to deliver ‘Black Friday Deals for Days’

    Yes, everyone is going to try to capture as many sales as early as possible. As to which factor(s) are critical I'd say that, functionally, staffing is part of the supply chain. It doesn't do you any good to get inventory to a warehouse or store if there isn't enough staff to get it to a shelf. And it doesn't help to have full staffing if there is no product.
  • Posted on: 10/21/2021

    Is retail in danger of getting burned out?

    Burnout is, I'm afraid, a permanent condition -- especially among younger employees raised to believe that the work/life balance scale should always be tilted in favor of life. It isn't that older generations didn't burn out, they did. It's that they were more likely to suffer in silence. Adequate compensation, professional pathing, educational options, etc. are getting to be table stakes for retention. So what can retailers do? Build stress relievers into the daily routine, extend paid vacation and days off, and perhaps support the pursuit of mindfulness, meditation, and stress management.
  • Posted on: 10/20/2021

    Instacart aims to transform in-store shopping with smart cart/checkout acquisition

    Call me cynical ... and I am ... but this seems another step toward making the Instacart brand more important than the brand of the retailers they serve. What's next? Their own stores?
  • Posted on: 10/20/2021

    Will physical and digital retail operations perform better on their own?

    Let me take a contrarian point of view, at least for the exercise. Why not do two things well rather than one thing badly or in a mediocre way? Physical and digital systems are clearly different, and so they clearly optimize differently. That seems to be the Saks argument, and - on one level - it makes perfect sense. Where it breaks down is over the issue of brand. Operate two channels under distinct brand names? Maybe. Operate two channels separately under the same brand? Sounds like a formula for a train wreck. As to the near term future, I think we will see more companies still trying to unify operations.
  • Posted on: 10/20/2021

    Is it time for retailers to retire ‘offensive’ Halloween costumes?

    First of all, any Halloween costume has the potential to offend not just someone, but some significant community. Witches? Devils? Werewolves? Sorry! We have to cancel them since a significant number of evangelical Christians may be offended by celebrating Satanism. Doctors? Sorry! The anti-vaccine community isn't buying it. And so on, and so on. I guess the point is that if you take out anything that might potentially offend a substantial number of people there isn't a lot left. So it's probably better to err on the side of common sense. Blackface? Nazis? Sexualizing children? Klansmen? Clearly better to take a pass. But if you want to make sure you don't offend anyone, better to cancel Halloween altogether. Offensive costumes are a little bit like obscenity. Most of us might have trouble describing them, but all of us recognize them when we see them.
  • Posted on: 10/19/2021

    Is the privacy paradox being resolved?

    The so-called privacy paradox is caused by a lack of consumer understanding. Actually there is no paradox. Consumers want both rewards and privacy and don't see why those are competing concepts. As more and more data savvy consumers enter the consumer market, I suspect we will get real clarity about how, and how much, informed consumers value their privacy.
  • Posted on: 10/19/2021

    Get ready for the ‘IOU Christmas’

    How well prepared can retailers be when so much of the supply chain crisis is out of their control? Most consumers have already run into the "it's the supply chain" excuse, so out-of-stocks aren't going to come as much of a surprise. The best advice is to get ahead of the issue and assure shoppers they can get whatever they want when - and if - it's available. All of the suggestions in the article are good, but none are an antidote for a disappointed child at the holidays.
  • Posted on: 10/19/2021

    Did Amazon execs mislead Congress about how it uses third-party sellers’ data?

    I think Amazon will dodge this bullet, largely because there is nobody in the Congress with enough tech savvy to understand the nuances of how their system works. The real question is whether or not knockoffs and targeted marketing constitute predation. If it does every supermarket operator in America is in real trouble, along with some fashion lines, foodservice operators, tool makers, etc.
  • Posted on: 10/18/2021

    Can 24/7 supply chain operations save Christmas?

    The problem isn't just the ports. It's also offshore manufacturing, a shortage of drivers, poor to terrible physical infrastructure aka roads, weather, labor shortages in a host of related industries, and excessive demand. This isn't the case where you can rank-stack solutions and identify the most promising one. It's a system, and systems need every segment in their network to be working efficiently and effectively.
  • Posted on: 10/18/2021

    Is Amazon 4-Star a winner?

    I think Amazon 4-Star has proven itself but, the real question is, what's the goal? If it is to grow a concept on an opportunistic basis then going from one store to 32 is great. If it is intended to be one more way of connecting to consumers and reinforcing the brand, again, that works for me -- albeit on a limited scale. If Amazon thinks 4-Star will be the next big thing, sorry Jeff, I wouldn't bet on that one. Is there an opportunity to visibly copy Amazon instead of developing your own strategy? Sure, retailers make that mistake every day.
  • Posted on: 10/18/2021

    Walgreens does its own pivot toward healthcare

    The best answer here is that it all depends. We don't know how the future of healthcare delivery in America will unfold. Will we see a single payer Medicare for all? Will we see the current model extend? Or will we see something in between? The honest answer is that we just don't know. What we do know is that the money is going out of general practitioner primary care medicine. A newly minted doctor in that field with an average med school debt load needs to see a patient every ten minutes or so to earn even a modest living. Ironically of course -- or perhaps not -- that's also where the most critical doctor shortages are. So if things stay where they are - which they almost certainly won't - this is a brilliant move. If things change - which they most certainly will - well, we'll see. This move makes Walgreens more competitive in the short run though without question. I wonder, though, how they will deal with issues including malpractice. They are a pretty big target for litigation.

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