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: 02/15/2019

    Will Google’s modular tech change how consumers buy smartphones?

    Modularization may indeed be the next step -- and a logical one given the escalating prices of new phones. As to whether or not others would emulate Google's lead, I think that all depends on how popular the modular phones are with the public.
  • Posted on: 02/15/2019

    eBay looks to lead a ‘retail revival’

    The obvious benefits are more participant sellers and buyers. And no, they aren't unique. Amazon, for one, has tools available to help sellers.
  • Posted on: 02/15/2019

    Will Amazon’s decision to bail cause a New York backlash?

    I think Amazon got a tremendous amount of information about critical markets for nothing, simply by suggesting they might be home for HQ2. As to pulling out of New York, it's an interesting move particularly since Amazon had to be aware of the on-the-ground political resistance from the time they made their first announcement, and yet they continued on. As to any backlash, I'd bet on it being negligible at best.
  • Posted on: 02/14/2019

    Will Mastercard’s sonic identity connect with consumers on a new level?

    But if the idea is to build brand equity through sonic awareness, why create regional variations, no matter how close?
  • Posted on: 02/14/2019

    Will Mastercard’s sonic identity connect with consumers on a new level?

    Sorry ... I don't get this argument. Trust is something consumers extend TO brands, not the other way around. And all the chip readers I've seen give you a visual prompt to ensure you are using the right network as part of the payment confirmation process. This still feels -- or sounds -- like a solution chasing a problem.
  • Posted on: 02/14/2019

    Will CVS’s HealthHUB concept change what consumers expect of drugstores?

    The challenges start with the potential for litigation and end somewhere in the future when a final, sensible healthcare delivery model finally comes to the United States. And it's that second challenge that would keep me up if I were plotting this strategy. We don't know whether the future of healthcare will look like a single payer, Medicare-like solution or a totally free market, but we do know something has to change in terms of pricing, services, and answering demand. If CVS' bet is right, they could be a robust part of whatever that final solution looks like. If not, they could be dis-intermediated right out of the market. I think consumer expectations of chain drug operations are changing, but how far and how fast remain critical questions.
  • Posted on: 02/14/2019

    Will Mastercard’s sonic identity connect with consumers on a new level?

    God ... I hope not! Sound, as Ian points out is a powerful force -- for good and bad. The "Mastercard Melody" is just annoying. And worse, imagine what happens in a world where hundreds of mediocre tones are competing for our attention -- modified by what region their sonic assault is taking place in. Another clear example of just because you can doesn't mean you should.
  • Posted on: 02/14/2019

    America has too many retail stores

    The answer is a clear and definitive "both." There are too many stores -- or, at the very least, too much retail square footage -- and retailers are dealing with a more nuanced problem. Let's take those in order. The square footage/store count problem has two root causes. First, too many retailers are still operating on -- or living with the legacy of -- strategies that equated scale with competitive advantage, basically a real estate approach to retailing that held that if you get get your store on the corner, in the strip mall or in large freestanding malls, then your competition couldn't and, sooner or later, you'd win. The second cause was a subconscious response to historical pattern where expanding birth rates and moves to suburbia in the 1950s through 1980s created a need for more and more stores. But things have changed. The shopper is now the center of the retail universe and they can buy however, whenever and wherever they want and never enter a physical store if they so choose. Also we are in the middle of a "babyless" economic boom. Traditionally strong economies are mirrored by increased birth rates, one of the classic excuses for building more stores. But retail remains frozen -- partially in the past, with one toe in the present, and largely in denial. Times have changed and they will continue to change. Retailing is going strong, but that doesn't mean we will ever need as many stores as we have.
  • Posted on: 02/13/2019

    Can Whole Foods’ business afford higher prices?

    I have never believed that prices are important, but always believed price impression is mission critical. The Whole Foods customer was prepared for -- and perhaps reveled in -- the fact that they were often overpaying for food. And yes, Amazon did get lots of ink for "lowering" prices and will, no doubt, get as much or more ink for floating them back up. But pricing was never the issue at Whole Foods. Shoppers went there despite the pricing and they are not likely to defect en masse because of it -- assuming the chain doesn't start a policy of insult pricing. So I think Whole Foods does have the ability to raise prices more easily than a Kroger or Walmart. As to the second part of the question, I think too many retailers may have confused the short term excitement of a hot economy with the long term impact of the forces fueling the fire. Middle class shoppers are starting to realize that their tax refunds may be lower this year and that may, by itself, curtail a certain amount of spending. And if we suffer a "market correction," sometimes also known as a recession, this year, that too will hurt retail sales. In that light, I don't think higher prices are going to help consumer spending. They rarely do.
  • Posted on: 02/13/2019

    Will the new plan for Sears work any better than the previous ones?

    In a word, no. He's milking this deal for all it's worth ... and then some. As to what type of CEO he should be looking for, short of the desperate or the prophetic, my money would be on a lunatic.
  • Posted on: 02/13/2019

    Retail leaders need to care more about tech

    Yes, I believe that technological expertise is now a requirement for the job, and I respectfully disagree with those that feel the CEO needs to know, "what it does," not "how it works." The CEO doesn't have to have the depth of skill of say, "the IT guy," but she or he does need to have an independent, full understanding of how a technology works and what it is -- and isn't -- capable of. Technology is just too important, in terms of overall budget allocation, systems efficiency, and customer experience. Attempting to optimize investment on the basis of superficial insights and understanding is a dangerous game. As to the second question, tech vendors are doing that precisely because C-suite executives -- with the exceptions of the CIO and/or CTO -- don't have the depth of context to fully evaluate the sales pitches they are listening to.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2019

    Will Marie Kondo de-clutter retail?

    It strikes a chord because we have too much stuff. As to impact, short-term, it is certainly something to be recognized. Long-term, the jury is still out.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2019

    Is Allswell with Walmart’s tiny house tour?

    I love it. If the mountain won't come to one, one has to go to the mountain after all. And, let's face it ... it's fun. My bet? Not only will Walmart sell some mattresses they'll polish up their brand image in the process, especially with younger consumers.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2019

    Barneys to become first major retailer to open legal weed shop

    I think it is high time the bandwagon jumpers and the roaches get weeded out of the market, especially if they are only TOKEn players. There ... got that out of my system. Forgive the tongue-in-cheek response, but it strikes me as a so-hip-it-hurts merchandising ploy. Yes, cannabis is going to be an important factor in legal retailing, but Barneys may have jumped the gun a bit. On the other hand, maybe they do know their customers better than it seems. On a more serious note the question of retail sales is an interesting one. Clearly CBD-infused products are making wide inroads in categories as diverse as cosmetics and beverages, but will THC-based product follow? I think the answer is probably no in most cases, at least for now.
  • Posted on: 02/11/2019

    Foot Locker makes $100M leap into the sneaker re-seller space

    I love the notion of investing in disruption rather than being its victim. I think the partnership will expand the reseller market faster and help to ensure that Foot Locker at least has the right to compete in it. As to whether or not this translates into increased in-store sales, I think the jury may still be out on that one.

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