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.

  • VIEW ARTICLES
  • VIEW COMMENTS
  • Posted on: 06/17/2019

    Shake Shack founder says, ‘Do it. Don’t talk about it (sustainability initiatives) until asked.’

    Al, All the more reason NOT to make claims, as Meyer suggests. Take my example of "better for you" as opposed to "good for you" foods. The first thing critics do when a company announces any initiative is find all of the counterexamples in the company's daily practice. For example, companies that boast about diversity in hiring shouldn't have all white, male boards or only a small number of "diverse hires" in key executive positions. Ditto for "better for you foods" -- think of "low sodium" soy sauce that still contains 24 percent salt. And so on, and so on. What Meyer is advocating lets critics "catch him doing something right." He isn't claiming to be perfect, just better than his peer group. People give quiet first movers more credit than they do, "late to the party and still not dressed right" businesses.
  • Posted on: 06/17/2019

    Shake Shack founder says, ‘Do it. Don’t talk about it (sustainability initiatives) until asked.’

    I think Danny Meyer is right. Too often companies role out "sustainability initiatives" or some other values-based campaign without: a.) making sure they are actually compliant with whatever principles they are touting; b.) thinking about how inauthentic it sounds to boast about doing something you should have been doing all along; or c.) appearing to be the corporate slow kid on the block who finally got the message. Better for a brand to have "discovered virtue," i.e., the right when questioned to say "Oh yes, we've been doing (fill in the blank) for five years," than to say, "We just discovered (fill in the blank) and we promise to start doing the right thing." P&G's conference was held this year. Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" was published in 1962 -- so where have they been? Also contrast Meyer's approach with P&G's. The conference was called the, "Cleaner Products Cleaner Future Summit," and significantly not the, "Clean Products Clean Future Summit." So the goal is to be better, but not be good in the same way that "better for you" foods aren't really all that good for you, just less bad. So if you haven't guessed by now, yes I think "don't tell until asked" makes sense for retailers and CPG companies, for lots of reasons.
  • Posted on: 06/13/2019

    Can GameStop reboot itself?

    I think we need to think differently here, (see my post,) and separate the future of GameStop from the future of its physical store network. To me the critical issue is whether the company survives and -- if it does -- what the appropriate platform or platforms enabling that survival should be. It may be that the company survives as a digital pure play or, as you suggest, operates a greatly reduced number of experience environments, as opposed to traditional retail stores. Any business that trades in content that can be more efficiently distributed digitally is at risk these days, but creative solutions have helped preserve independent book and music stores. In the case of GameStop, I suggested they move from distributing content to creating it and then distributing it on a proprietary basis. May not be the best idea, but it is one solution emerging from thinking differently about the problem, and that is what they have to begin doing if they hope to survive.
  • Posted on: 06/13/2019

    Can GameStop reboot itself?

    I guess the comparisons are fair ... with a caveat. Blockbuster was undone by streaming video services and cable networks. And, Tom is right that that same downloading technologies will have an adverse impact on the chain's sales. But, GameStop can do one thing Blockbuster couldn't -- migrate from being a distributor of content to a content creator. It's easier and cheaper to create a game that is only available through you than it is to produce a blockbuster (excuse the pun) movie or television series. There isn't a big market for redundant physical distribution, but gamers are always looking for new games. So if I were George Sherman, I'd run a contest for the best new game from an amateur game maker, find the four or five creatives out there that really have what is needed, and create a stable of in-house content developers. Might not work, but it beats the hell out of bankruptcy.
  • Posted on: 06/07/2019

    How long before Amazon launches its fleet of drones?

    Paco -- Do you think people in gated communities would really tolerate a fleet of drones violating their overly-paid for airspace? Actually I agree with you, but I can't shake the image of a conga line of drones waiting to check in at a guardhouse.
  • Posted on: 06/07/2019

    Macy’s balances plusses and minuses of free shipping to loyal customers

    I agree with my friend Ben Ball. Lots of shoppers are willing to spend once a year to at least partially offset the cost of services. Think Prime and membership fees at Costco and Sam's. And most of these programs have some limitations. Want too get into Costco at certain times? Spend more money upfront. Want everything shipped on Prime terms? Too bad. But Prime is an example of more than a logistical offset. It's a good example of brand building. When a customer feels like part of a club, they don't mind paying a few dues.
  • Posted on: 06/07/2019

    How long before Amazon launches its fleet of drones?

    The short answer is no, at least not "... in the next several years." Moving to full drone force adoption is going to involve a nightmare of litigation and regulation and that's assuming there are NO problems such as drones colliding, or failing and falling out of the sky and causing a car accident or other property damage, etc. But that said I do believe there is such a thing as prime mover advantage here. If I were Amazon, or any of these companies, I would keep exploring the technologies AND the potential regulatory and cultural barriers involved in drone and other forms of automated delivery. What I wouldn't be doing is laying down a bet that we will see them used in 2020 or 2021.
  • Posted on: 06/07/2019

    Will associates rocking new vests help improve Walmart’s image and results?

    Walmart's most significant labor challenge? That's a tough one. First, there's the problem of actually attracting enough workers, just to stay even with normal labor force attrition, to say nothing about expansion. Then there is the problem of retention. Note to Walmart management, it's not that I don't think the new vests are cute, it's just that they won't do anything for employees or customers. You had a chance to do something here, but it involved more than piping colors. Then there is the problem of creating career paths, although their recent college tuition plan changes may help there. And finally there is the challenge of the future -- trying to determine how much of their business will stay in-store, how much will move online, what percentage of store and warehouse labor will be automated and/or controlled through AI, etc. As to the second question, I think they are so busy trying to address the immediate labor force issues that they haven't really thought through the future in any significant way. The time to be building the workforce of the future is now. It's too late to solve all the sins of the past.
  • Posted on: 06/06/2019

    Stores have cut out-of-stocks. Why don’t consumers know that?

    It would be helpful to have some actual numbers to discuss. It's fine to assert that, for example, "Research shows that online retailers have significantly lower service levels when compared to traditional retailers that operate warehouses and stores." But what is the actual delta? Beyond that I think perception is the key, in the same way it is in pricing. And that's the flaw in the argument. If a store is 99.5 percent in-stock, but what I'm looking for as a consumer falls into that 0.5 percent out-of-stock, my perception will be that the store has an out-of-stock problem. There's also the frustration associated with the immediacy of physically reaching for something that is not there, again deepening the perception of poor service levels. As to the second question it is NEVER a strong argument to say, "Shop with me. I'm not as bad as he is." Being better than a poor competitor is not the same thing as being good.
  • Posted on: 06/06/2019

    Will urgent care centers put a hurt on retail health clinics?

    They could start by having doctors and nurses on staff, move on to adding expensive medical testing technologies, keep their facilities staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, accept a broader range of insurance coverage, have staff qualified to tell you when you should leave and get to an emergency room, etc., etc. Shall I go on? Being in position to give a flu shot is not the same thing as being able to treat someone who may be having a heart attack. I'd say retail clinics would be well advised to err on the side of competency and know their limits.
  • Posted on: 06/06/2019

    Ace Hardware and True Value satisfy customers, Home Depot not so much

    These results aren't all that surprising. If you inverted the list you would probably have the rankings contractors and other professionals would give these stores. Home Depot just isn't built for somebody who needs four, two-inch "S" hooks in the same way Ace isn't the right store for somebody framing out a garage. So the question is, which customers are you trying to satisfy? There's the professional, the highly skilled amateur, the hobbyist, the gardener, and the general consumer looking for screws, nails or a pint of stain. As to online, again, which customers are you talking about? Somebody looking for a new bathroom vanity may look online, but somebody plumbing a new bathroom as part of their business probably does not.
  • Posted on: 06/05/2019

    Are Wegmans, Giant Eagle and Tops wise to drop in-store childcare?

    I was never sold on the idea of childcare. Sure it makes great theoretical sense, but it also means your store or chain is one accident, one mini-epidemic, or one really bad hire away from a disaster. I never thought the risk/reward math worked out. Now add a new generation of younger shoppers who either opt not to have kids, or are afraid to let their kids go anywhere without supervision, and/or are willing to sue at the drop of a hat, and you've just kicked the last leg out from under an already shaky stool.
  • Posted on: 06/05/2019

    Walmart’s checkout pilot puts shoppers in the fast lane

    To answer this question we would first have to know the real source of the initial resistance. I first saw self-checkouts in the Superquinn stores in Ireland 20 years ago. Irish customers embraced the technology in part because Superquinn spelled out the clear advantages of it to them, rewarded them for using it, and limited access to the system to the "best" customers -- which it turned out, could be almost anyone. In other words they did a good job in customer education and marketing. The stations didn't replace regular checkouts, but they sure reduced front-end congestion. If it worked 20 years ago, I don't know why it can't work today.
  • Posted on: 06/05/2019

    Will a city’s ban on tobacco sales catch on across the nation?

    I think it's likely on a city by city basis, but we are decades away from anything approaching a national ban. For one thing, tobacco products are a still a solid source of tax revenue. And for another, we know from alcohol and cannabis that prohibition just creates black markets and makes certain products more attractive to people who otherwise might not try them. I think the decision to sell or not sell tobacco should belong to the retailer. I salute CVS for stopping the sale of cigarettes, but there is no question that it was -- at least in the short run -- an expensive decision. But CVS and others have chosen to say that they are in the health and wellness business and that tobacco products are antithetical to their brand promise. When it comes to tobacco the old saying needs to be changed from, "Buyer beware," to "Seller beware."
  • Posted on: 06/04/2019

    Will delivering online orders seven days a week further transform retail ops?

    Lee, people can't relax because things keep moving faster than they do. Some on RW may remember when, in our childhoods, sending something "Air Mail" was an indication of importance. Then "Overnight" came and that became the standard for how long things should take to get from Point A to Point B. Then we got Fax technology and we all stood around waiting for "important things" to appear out of the little box. Now we do email and wonder why nobody has replied before we sent our message out. That's what happened to Sunday -- it just became part of a continuous time link between Saturday and Monday.

Contact Ryan

  • Apply to be a BrainTrust Panelist

  • Please briefly describe your qualifications — specifically, your expertise and experience in the retail industry.
  • By submitting this form, I give you permission to forward my contact information to designated members of the RetailWire staff.

    See RetailWire's privacy policy for more information about what data we collect and how it is used.