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: 05/11/2021

    Are brands and retailers defining authenticity on their own terms or consumers’?

    Authenticity is like trust. Neither of these concepts can be "conveyed to consumers" by a seller because both authenticity and trust originate in the mind of the consumer and are either reinforced or refuted by the actions taken or not taken by the seller. So authenticity is something consumers perceive and conform in their own minds, not something that can be imposed on them. As to which component is the most essential, I kept looking for "honesty" but since it isn't there I guess I would vote for integrity.
  • Posted on: 05/07/2021

    What digital tools can help manage increasingly disrupted supply chains?

    Each element on the list has a vital role in shaping future supply chains and many - if adopted - could significantly change how logistics function today. But if I were forced to pick a few from the list, it would be AI, cloud computing, and blockchain technologies. That said, in order to optimize any of these technologies you need a suite including sensors, 3-D printing, etc. As to which are the least practical, I think that's the wrong question. Many of these are actually directly related. Sensors for example have to be in place for the Industrial Internet of Things to work. Again, in a B2B setting, I'd say wearables might head the "nice to have" list unless you count things like Google Glasses. Interestingly, I also am bullish on B2B applications of augmented and virtual reality which didn't make the list.
  • Posted on: 05/07/2021

    Walmart is going all in on 24/7/365 telehealth

    As Boomers and Xers start navigating their "Golden Years" -- so called one supposes because you have to sell your gold to survive them -- and the ranks of the uninsured and underinsured continue to grow, the market for affordable, convenient, and on-demand medical services from mental health counseling to questions that today might find their way to Urgent Care clinics can only be expected to expand. So yes, it will be critical to both sales and growth for retailers in several classes of trade. Walmart's acquisition of MeMD just upped the ante for the rest of the retail community. The market is huge, but ultimately limited. One might shop five stores for food, but it is unlikely consumers will take the same approach to healthcare.
  • Posted on: 05/07/2021

    Will store-hailing revolutionize grocery delivery?

    What once was old is now new again. When I was a kid the produce man's truck used to drive slowly down the street waiting for customers to physically run out and flag him (and it was always a him) down. The only problem was selection both in terms of quality and depth. By sticking with branded goods "store hailing" solves one of those problems, but still leaves the selection depth issue unaddressed. The potential upside is obvious, especially in under-stored urban markets and zip codes full of "senior" seniors who may not drive or young, affluent, hipsters who can't be bothered going to the store. So the big challenges seem to be economics -- how do you work out delivery charges flat rate or by mileage -- and managing consumer expectations down to a level that can be met.
  • Posted on: 05/06/2021

    Will a new subscription program make Circle K a daily stop for members?

    Well -- let's think about this for a minute. If I am a fan of Circle K beverages, this is a great deal. Of course, Circle K will be losing a lot of money on me if I am the kind of consumer who shows up every day, gets a cup of coffee (and nothing else), and rolls on down the highway. If I don't like their beverages, I'm not going to start liking them because I can get 30 drinks a month for under $6. Will some people be attracted to Circle K that normally wouldn't shop there? I'm sure there will be. Will some customers buy something else when they stop in for their "free" beverages? Probably. But this feels a lot like a discount that benefits customers you probably aren't going to lose anyway.
  • Posted on: 05/06/2021

    Labor Department makes it tougher to classify gig workers as contractors

    Of course it will impact any and all businesses using gig economy workers. How couldn't it? As to whether or not the rules should be reconsidered, the first question ought to be, "Whom or what are you trying to protect and/or regulate through the rules?" If the answer to that question is that you are trying to encourage free markets' bottom lines over the welfare of individual workers, then odds are you'll see gig workers as independent contractors. If, on the other hand, you are concerned about the rights of workers and/or the physical protection of the public, you are going to insist on regulating these workers and that requires giving them a different status. So how you answer these questions determines what you will see as the best course. Over time, markets correct themselves. So it is easy to envision a scenario where, as a growing percentage of workers are dependent on the gig economy, operating as independent contractors, unions and organized labor have a Renaissance, compounding the business problems the pro-contractor community were trying to solve.
  • Posted on: 05/06/2021

    How did Crocs ever become cool and how long will it stay that way?

    Why the recent success? Well, they are comfortable and affordable, but that's not enough to spur a youth-fueled buying frenzy. Dialing back a little, creating the mass marketer's version of scarcity, marketing by paring inventory, and creating limited editions are all probably part of the explanation. Youth sales are spurred by the same things that have always spurred youth fads and trends. My bet? Questlove sold more Crocs than COVID-19 did -- or will.
  • Posted on: 05/05/2021

    Remote work is rough on big retail districts

    It all depends on what happens, and it's way too early to make firm predictions. We don't know if the pandemic will be contained or if a new variant will drive everyone back off the streets. And we don't really know if employees will prefer to continue working from home, be forced to return to offices, or if some hybrid model -- say three days at home, two days in the office -- will become the norm. My guess, and it could be 100 percent wrong, is that the hybrid model will win out in the end and foot traffic will be redistributed, not disappear.
  • Posted on: 05/05/2021

    Is the future of retail being cooked up in a lab?

    Limited if they keep the lab-grown nomenclature, not bad if they change it to something positive like Earth-friendly or responsibly resourced. That said, I think disrupting is the wrong word since these products will be released and/or accepted or rejected on an individual basis. I also think it depends a lot on the category and industry. Natural fabrics always sounds better to me than "synthetics." Lab-grown food sounds a little Soylent Greenish around the edges. But lab-grown jewelry? Maybe that could be a thing. Rather than look at the implications on society, I suggest it might be more useful to look at how social attitudes impact market potential.
  • Posted on: 05/05/2021

    Are retailers making it too tough for seniors to shop online?

    Clarity of design and ease of navigation are great website design principles regardless of the age of the target customer. Most Boomers are computer literate and shouldn't have trouble negotiating a well architected site. If, as a company, you need to offer tutorials on how to use your site, perhaps the problem is with the site, not the user.
  • Posted on: 05/04/2021

    Kroger takes flight with drone delivery test

    Retailers love drones because a) it's driverless delivery and b) drones can't strike ... yet. Seriously, road-based delivery is expensive and problematic. But drones are the technological equivalent of an overly-rich dessert. One taste is intriguing and satisfying, too much of a good thing leads to obesity, diabetes, and death. Obviously as the popularity of drones increases, the more likely that something will go wrong. One drone above you great. Five hundred drones buzzing overhead, not so much. So the more drones succeed, the faster the bloom will be off the rose. Drone technology's success in retail is the seed of its own demise.
  • Posted on: 05/04/2021

    Will a virtual quick serve restaurant drive Pepsi’s cola sales?

    Once again an engaging idea that doesn't stand up so well once you burrow slightly below the surface. Pairing soft drinks? Really? The "pairing" crowd doesn't drink soft drinks. The problem isn't that people don't know the perfect entree to "pair" with a Mountain Dew, it's that they aren't drinking as much Mountain Dew as they used too. "Pairing" a sugar-based beverage with a high-cholesterol burger isn't really going to attract the haute cuisine set. The idea itself is interesting, like P&G opening laundries and dry cleaners. I'm just not sold on it as applied tooth's category.
  • Posted on: 05/04/2021

    Will CVS make a breakthrough as it expands in-store mental health services?

    In the same way Amazon continues to find digital engagement connection points to the consumer, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers need to expand the number on the ways they can "touch" the consumer through services. And as healthcare costs continue to expand and Boomers (and soon Gen Xers) continue to age, the idea of bringing more and more health services closer to where people live and work clearly is a winner. And I think the world has changed enough that more and more people are accepting that anxiety, depression, etc. are normal conditions that can be as effectively treated as asthma or diabetes. So CVS seems to be on the right track here. The one caveat is that there are people who are seriously mentally ill, and a small subset of them may be violent. As the increasing number of mass shooting events demonstrates, the danger with any public space is that it attracts such individuals. A community mental health clinic is also likely to attract some of these people -- most, but not all, seeking help, but some who may represent a danger to themselves or others. One or two in-store incidents could offset all the good these new programs' promise, so one hopes there are good screening tools in place.
  • Posted on: 05/03/2021

    What goes into standout Mother’s Day marketing campaigns?

    Commercially, I liked TJX. Philosophically, I really like the idea behind the Galaxy ad, making the idea of "Mom" a non-gender specific, non-familial dependent concept. But emotionally Dick's wins. So since we're talking about business, I guess my vote goes to TJX.
  • Posted on: 05/03/2021

    Do retailers have to catch up to Amazon’s logistics powerhouse?

    Amazon's largest logistic advantages are consumer connectivity and trust, the rest is just networks; and logistics networks tend to sub optimize over time. For years I have written here that I don't believe Amazon's greatest strength is their logistical model, but rather their ability to build webs of digital and physical engagement points around the consumer -- whether that's through Echo devices, streamed entertainment content on the Amazon channel, subscription services, pharmaceutical packaging and delivery, or just good old Prime. No other retail or shipping service today has that same advantage. What Amazon has done is nothing more or less than made millions of households nodes in a continuous loop logistical model that goes far, far beyond mere distribution of product. How do you compete with that? If I knew I'd be on a beach now.

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.