Briefings Magazine

Executive Makers

Business leaders hone their craft in the woodshop.

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By: Vindya Burugupalli

About a decade ago, Matt Wampler was perusing a contemporary furniture store when a coffee table caught his eye. Though still in his mid-twenties at the time, Wampler had already purchased and successfully resuscitated a faltering Jimmy John’s sandwich shop. He had the vision to see beyond what was in front of him—and the confidence to bring his ideas to fruition. So, he thought, “I can recreate this table myself.”

That was the start of the now 34-year-old’s woodworking endeavors. After constructing his inaugural coffee table, Wampler soon came across more items he wanted to build, in particular a 4-inch thick oak dining table with hand carved edges and an artery of black epoxy coursing through the center. More than 30 creations and years later, the ebony-veined slab remains his most cherished masterpiece.

As Wampler’s woodworking skills improved, so too did his business acumen. Over the decade since picking up his first power tool, he has established a number of thriving franchise locations as well as founded his own company, ClearCOGS, which uses machine learning to reliably predict food prep needs for modern restaurant operators. In between coding sessions and meetings, Wampler continues to retreat to his garage, honing his craft and composure among rulers and angles, saws and hammers, chisels and clamps, adhesives and fasteners.

Wampler’s hand-carved oak table with black epoxy.

Even without much technical know-how, if you have an idea, you can build it, Wampler says. It’s a mindset common among entrepreneurs and executives. But here theory diverges: instead of doing a bunch of research or watching tutorials, Wampler prefers to dive right in, learning as he goes. “It’s just wood, glue, and clamps,” Wampler says. “The thing I like the most about woodworking is trying to conceptually figure out how I’m going to put it together.” The first three days working on a new project he mostly spends staring at the wood pile until the path forward appears. Then, it’s time to cut to size. Assemble. Fail. Try again. The second or third attempt usually—but not always—comes together. And it doesn’t matter. It’s the process that’s cathartic, says Wampler.

The chief executive is not alone in his sentiments. When Wampler posted a column chronicling his carpentry pursuits on LinkedIn, he says numerous business leaders reached out to share about their own woodworking endeavors. In his executive leadership blog, Doug Thorpe often relies on building axioms, like measure twice, cut once. “As a leader, you need to check your facts before making a decision,” he writes in his blog, adding to always seek additional data and consider problems from multiple angles, which can save time and resources.

“You get that instant feedback, and you don’t have anyone to blame but yourself.”

While Wampler’s disposition is toward action over planning, woodworking has taught him to slow down and to prioritize accuracy and precision over speed. For instance, if the blade isn’t measured to be at an exact 90-degree angle when he makes a cut, later in the process when it’s time to assemble it will cause compound issues. “You get that instant feedback, and you don’t have anyone to blame but yourself,” he says. Other times, Wampler is forced to solve problems that he couldn’t foresee. That’s where creativity enters. “There’s no fixed playbook.”


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