Matt Stuller: Louisiana Lightning

The jewelry trade hasn’t been the same since Matt Stuller came to town

For the debut of the View From the Top column, which looks at the jewelry business from the unique perspective of a chief executive, JCK couldn’t have chosen a more seasoned candidate. As the CEO of Stuller Inc., celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Matt Stuller has helped grow not only his own company, but also the industry at large. From his humble beginnings in 1970, when he ran Stuller from the trunk of his Nissan 240Z, to presiding over the juggernaut the company is today—with its Diamond Trading Co. sightholder status, on-time delivery systems, and real-time digital platforms—Stuller, the man, remains true to his core business philosophy: shaping the business so it remains a leader in emerging trends.

What have been your most important leadership lessons?

To be able to lead, you must have humility and resolve. People can see through you easily, so there must be a true genuineness about you as a person and your leadership ability. But most importantly, be charismatic and diplomatic in getting your message across.

How has your leadership style evolved since you arrived at Stuller?

That it’s critically important to stay on top of your game. Create a vision that has action. A vision without action is a hallucination.

What was the biggest misstep of your career, and how did you recover from it?

For the first 20 years of running this business, I didn’t have children, so I didn’t fully understand the love and passion parents have for their kids. After having children of my own, I ­realized that a job is all about supporting a family, not a business.

What is the most surprising thing that’s happened to you over the course of your career?

How much I value hearing from our unhappy customers. They are the greatest resource in improving your business. I always tell customers that I’m the ultimate complaint department.

How do you think your employees would describe your style of leadership?

It’s important for Stuller associates to see me as a leader who is paying attention to the future of the business and having a firm grasp of knowing where it’s going. In that sense, I hope they see me as a leader who is futurist. And I hope that without question, people have come to know that I’m not a one-dimensional leader.

What do you look for when you hire a new employee?

I always look for character. The quality of an organization depends on the quality of its associates.

How would you describe the culture at Stuller? How does a leader grow a company culture?

For us, the company moves in the direction where it can become the most dominant force in the industry. Today, everything we do now has a technical part to it. The culture of a business must move toward where the industry is moving, then go on to the next thing of importance.

Do you think jewelry is fundamentally different from or similar to other industries?

The jewelry industry isn’t rocket science: It’s much more complicated because you’re dealing with emotion. Unlike most products and services produced and provided by other industries, there is a higher emotional significance tied to jewelry.

What is the future of brick-and-mortar? What do you think about online jewelry sales?

For years, jewelers have looked at the demise of the small hardware store and pharmacies across the country. Wal-Mart may be the biggest seller of ­jewelry in the country, but the customer’s experience is still important. Online, jewelers will always be vul­ner­able on self-purchases of fashion ­jewelry at a lower price—under a few hundred dollars—and certain branded products. But people still want to buy a piece at a jewelry store based on the store experience, which is all part of the emotional connection to the product.

What are you proudest of having accomplished, as you reflect on your own career at Stuller?

Looking back, my biggest accomplish­­ment was creating a successful man­u­facturing and distribution operation in southern Louisiana. I really feel we’ve put a flag on the map in Lafayette as a major force in the industry.