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: 07/26/2021

    Macy’s should have stayed local

    Seeing J.L. Hudson's falter under Macy's leadership, it's hard not to blame everything on a loss of localization. But inept management sure helped. There's been so much damage done there's no way to go back, and very little road to left to move forward on.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2021

    Should retailers continue the chatbot deception?

    Retailers should be totally transparent, but customers should be savvy enough to know the difference. It isn't all that hard. I don't see cons other than the fact that a lot of people want to talk to a human being, not an AI program. But those same people will be just as upset when they figure out that "Alice" is a bot.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2021

    Has Ben & Jerry’s gone too far with its stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

    The question really is, "Did Ben and Jerry make the right move?" This is probably a decision driven -- or at least approved of -- by the founders, not the Marketing Department. Being an Irish-American, I'm overly familiar with the politics of transformational political polarization. In Ireland, the question of British authority to rule any or all of Ireland became spun up as, "Catholics versus Protestants," -- quite a different issue from whether the Queen "owns" any part of the island. In the same way, the Israel-Palestine issue has become recast as Anti-Semitism on the one side and freedom fighting on the other. The fact is one can -- as presumably Ben and Jerry are as people -- love Judaism, and maybe Israel, and still be opposed to specific practices of the Israeli government. And, the founders have a long individual and collective history of taking stands that were, and are, unpopular with conservatives. That's clearly their right. Unilever knew that when they agreed to allow the brand broad ongoing latitude in social justice issues. It wasn't like Ben and Jerry's political leanings were well hidden secrets after all. The real question ought to be, do Ben and Jerry have the right to take positions that they can be reasonably certain will hurt the Ben & Jerry's brand and, by extension, employees and customers? The short answer is, legally yes, but ethically, that's another question. Maybe they should have made their statement as individuals and not had it come through the brand.
  • Posted on: 07/22/2021

    Should retailers reconsider bringing their HQ staff back to work?

    With or without the delta variant it is clearly time to rethink our traditional ideas around work, productivity, public health, and about a thousand other things. To answer the question directly, yes. With the rate of the unvaccinated hovering close to 40 percent and the highly infectious nature of the delta variant you begin to see the common sense foundation behind Apple's approach. What we aren't thinking about is that the unvaccinated are essentially walking test labs for other potential variants, some of which may be vaccine resistant. The longer the numbers of the unvaccinated hold steady, the better the odds that a variant will emerge that can't be contained by the current vaccines. Also, we need to understand that COVID-19 isn't a "one-off." It's perfectly possible that we will see another pandemic, the only question is when. Beyond the public health concerns we've all learned a great deal about work -- how it is done, what's best for us, what we can do without, and what is critical. That alone deserves a rethink.
  • Posted on: 07/21/2021

    Will a new private label be a good fit for Macy’s customers?

    The last thing Macy's needs is another private label. Macy's suffers from a perpetual identity crises and what it needs is not yet one more "identity" but "an" identity. What should they do? Clean up the stores. Address the structural and leadership issues. Develop a pricing/business model that both makes a profit and builds brand value. Macy's needs to spend time figuring out where its customers went and what drove them there. Throwing strategies against the wall won't work, except perhaps by accident.
  • Posted on: 07/21/2021

    Have indie bookstores found answers to counter Amazon?

    First of all, why is this an "either/or" question? If it is, that assumes the "pie" is fixed. But what if the "pie" is growing? Amazon will clearly continue to grow and so will great indie bookstores. With all due respect to my friend Ben Ball the right answer is, "inventory and atmosphere," not, "inventory or atmosphere." If you need the latest Stephen King novel at a deep discount, you'll shop at Amazon. If you are looking for a curated browsing book buying experience, the indie store will win every time. Book Beat, my favorite indie bookstore, has an amazing selection of new and out of print art books, probably the best selection of children's books I've ever seen (masterfully curated by one of the owners), and the latest avant-garde literature. Can you buy Stephen King there? Sure, but with all due respect to Mr. King, why would you? And that's the point. Indie bookstores can offer advice, more targeted suggestions -- of course with Amazon's algorithms that's not much of a trick, community events including book clubs, and yes, that whole wonderful browsing experience. The indie bookstores of today are best-in-class. They just need to keep faith with their consumer. Amazon will take care of itself.
  • Posted on: 07/20/2021

    Is it time for retailers to reinstate pandemic protocols?

    But Bob, let's be realistic. Something around 40 percent of the population continuously rejects the benefits associated with agreeing to the concept of a shared, objective reality, especially in matters of science and health. Do we really believe that people who refuse to get vaccinated will fess up and wear masks into stores? Of course not. So, while I agree this starts as a public health problem (i.e., a political/regulatory issue) retailers were asked from the start to enforce the guidelines and if they don't nobody will. General Motors just mandated masks again in their St. Louis plant, and as infections begin to rise again we may well see regulations reinstated in "Blue States" but it's unlikely "Red States" will consider similar moves. So if not retailers, who?
  • Posted on: 07/20/2021

    Can facial recognition outlast its bad press?

    Living in Detroit where the police department makes extensive use of facial recognition -- followed in a growing number of cases by lawsuits by "misidentified" individuals falsely arrested and/or charged with a crime because of the inability of the technology to accurately identify African-American faces -- I'd say retailers should walk very carefully around this technology. The risk of being cancelled because of perceived racism far outweighs the benefit of catching a shoplifter or two.
  • Posted on: 07/14/2021

    When will predictive models become more predictable?

    Predictive models are excellent tools for telling you what happened in the past, but are severely limited in terms of their ability to live up to their name, i.e., "predict" demand. At best, many of these models become self-fulfilling prophecies. Ship inventory in anticipation of demand and that's what you are going to sell since that's all you have to sell. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, and that's a dubious assumption, it ought to be that the future is inherently unpredictable. Predictive models assume continuity - that the future is somehow a linear projection of the present and, more critically, the past. That may help you maintain sales or score incremental gains, but it's not a path toward exponential returns.
  • Posted on: 07/12/2021

    Are independent grocers thriving?

    I'd say something else altogether, or maybe a combination of other elements. Public/Private has always been one model, but into today's commercial market that denies "independents" a powerful financial tool for funding expansion. Ditto with "family ownership" which eliminates ESOPs, etc. It's a much harder metric to pin down, which may be why we are stuck in the 1950s and would certainly require serious study, but it would begin (but clearly not end) with a foundation of individual entrepreneurship, a certain competitive attitude, and how long an organization can maintain the founder's -- or other key leader's -- values and posture and avoid excessive bureaucracy. I think of Meijer under Fred Meijer. Big? Yes. Multiunit? of course. Multi-state? Check off that box too. But, entirely self-funded and driven by his vision as opposed to conventional wisdom, and a strategic approach that let the company fly under the radar for years. I could make a case for Walmart being an "independent" as long as Sam was alive and active.He started as a two store operator after all -- independent by anyone's definition. Sometimes it's multi-generational, as in the case of KVAT and Wegmans, with each succeeding generation adding more and more value and taking the company in new directions. And, maybe it's as simple as that in the end. Independents dream. Chains manage.
  • Posted on: 07/12/2021

    Are independent grocers thriving?

    I have been a strident champion of independent grocers and their collective ability to compete for over two decades, so of course it makes sense to me. But -- that said -- can we PLEASE get rid of those antiquated definitions for an independent? NGA's definition could apply to stores not considered pure grocers and USDA's criteria are straight out of the 1950s. Even FMI's classic standard, ten or fewer stores, is medieval. "Independent" operators including KVAT, H.E. Butt, Wegmans, and lots of other best-in-class operators are now considered chains, but their roots and souls remain independent. What we desperately need is a new definition of independent operators. There are thousands of reasons why independents can do better than chains and -- by these anachronistic definitions -- become chains. I have argued forever about the fact that NGA, FMI, USDA, analysts, trade magazines, etc., etc. consistently fail to accurately portray independents because, if successful, independents stop being independent at some point, skewing all the numbers. Independents will continue to outperform traditional chains because they think about consumers, retailing, and competition in different, and general better ways. To punish the independent supermarket sector by not counting its largest successes is, frankly, illogical and most certainly distorts any attempt at sector analytics.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2021

    Will in-person conferences make a comeback after a year of virtual shows?

    Like other BrainTrusters, I've also spoken at virtual conferences during the pandemic and I have to say I found it simultaneously more challenging and ultimately less fulfilling than delivering a presentation in front of a crowd, so I'm probably pretty firmly in the "compliment" camp. That said, I think we need to look at which conferences, which industries, and what content is being presented to make a firm decision, in other words, "it depends." Most of us have earned a living directly or indirectly on the trade show circuit, and - if we were being honest - we would have to admit that if a high percentage of those shows disappeared, nothing would change. The trade show industry is just that - an industry - and an army of folks make their living doing little past staging, addressing, and/or attending shows, large and small. But let's talk about value to the attendee. Is there a benefit, other than being able to write off a vacation and some freebie meals from suppliers, to attending all the shows that were operating pre-COVID-19? Obviously not. So I think the future of trade shows looks like fewer, better, and more focused. For some shows like CES and maybe NRF it may mean they're bigger. Other smaller specialty shows may also succeed. And for some shows staying virtual or some hybrid virtual/physical model may be the best. But I've thought for decades that it was really hard to justify some of the shows, no matter how profitable it was for me personally, or how much fun they were to attend.
  • Posted on: 07/02/2021

    Will online reviews keep their Teflon reputation?

    Fake reviews work because we live in a social culture that is increasingly less critical at the same time it is more driven by self-affirmation. This means folks tend to believe people who appear to believe what they do. My bet is that in the future reviews will both expand and lose credibility as more and more consumers get burned falling for them.
  • Posted on: 07/02/2021

    Has TikTok become the most direct marketing path to Gen Z?

    No question TikTok is on an upswing among the young, but then again -- once upon a time -- so were MySpace, Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube. What's driving its appeal? Two things. It's visually oriented and the fact that kids' parents and grandparents aren't on it ... yet. Want to know when TikTok has jumped the shark? You'll know when the RetailWire community is using it daily.
  • Posted on: 07/02/2021

    Marketers go to college to recruit brand ambassadors

    It's hard to imagine they won't become more common and, in some cases, more lucrative. As to how brands and retailers should approach such deals, the critical word is cautiously. Young athletes are young people and young people sometimes make big mistakes on their path to adulthood, especially if they suddenly find themselves with lots of money and attention. The same problem occurs in the pro ranks as well, so best to know who you are putting your money on before you invest.

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