Matt Riley grew up as a shop kid in his father’s business, sweeping the floors on the weekends. Today, at 42, he’s the CEO of the company his father launched—Thomas Riley Artisans’ Guild—and he brings his own entrepreneurial spirit to the business.
“We were always there,” Riley says, speaking of himself and his younger brother, Ben, who is the company’s president. “Sanding, stripping furniture, cleaning the shop. It taught us a great work ethic.”
Today, that work ethic still matters as Riley continues his father’s mission of bringing high-quality service to custom woodworking and furniture making. Over the last 30 years, the business has expanded to include Method & Concept, a contemporary art gallery and design studio launched in 2015, and Acanthus International, a specialty furniture restoration company based in West Palm Beach and acquired in 2020.
As CEO, Riley is intimately involved in both his leadership duties and the day-to-day operations of the business. “We have so much good stuff going on,” he says.
Too much good stuff can be a great problem to have, but Riley admitted it’s his No. 1 struggle as an entrepreneur. “I’ve got a lot of ideas, but being able to filter out which ones are worth my time is the challenge.” To keep from spreading himself too thin, Riley relies on his instincts about what matters. He suggests other entrepreneurs do the same. “Follow what you’re passionate about, and if your gut tells you it’s not worth your time, don’t do it.”
When it comes to building a company that will last multiple generations, Riley is adamant about the building blocks. Focus on culture, he says. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast all day long.” At Thomas Riley Artisans’ Guild, Riley’s father created an environment that emphasized a shoulder-to-shoulder work ethic, one that has carried into the culture of the company today, and which Riley credits with much of the business’ success. “We have a whatever-it-takes attitude,” he says. “And we do it with love and kindness, fairness and honesty. Nobody’s too good to pick up a broom around here.”
RILEY’S ENTREPRENEURIAL ADVICE: DON’T FOOL WITH THE SYSTEM
For entrepreneurs just starting out—especially those, like Riley, who need to narrow down their ideas—keep things simple. Develop a system that works and stick with it. Within Thomas Riley Artisans’ Guild, there’s an acronym that leadership often uses: DFWTS. Don’t fool with the system. Over the last three years, Riley has been diligent about implementing systems in different departments and making sure they’re followed to the letter. “I find there’s more opportunity for creativity when you’re following a system,” Riley says. “Creativity without the discipline of a system creates chaos.”
One example: the weekly leadership meeting for each of the three companies in the Artisans’ Guild. The meeting is held on the same day, at the same time, and it follows the same agenda. It starts on time and ends on time. Unresolved items go on the agenda for the next meeting. “It’s been a game-changer for our company,” Riley says.
Photo Courtesy Zach Stovall