"After church on Sunday, I’d put up signs," Riley said.
To make money, he worked as a carpenter during high school and college breaks. After college, he thought he might go into banking or finance.
But "between junior and senior year I put the hammer down and got my (real estate) license," he said.
"I said, ‘Let me try this real estate thing,’ and fell in love with it and never looked back."
That was in 1972. After graduating from college a year later, he returned home and helped grow his dad’s brokerage from two to 150 people. In 1988, he sold the company to B. Gary Scott Realtors. He served as senior vice president until 1991, when that brokerage was sold.
After meeting Allen Tate, he joined the Allen Tate Co. in 1992 as a senior vice president and two years later became president and chief operating officer.
Riley said he learned a lot from his three mentors: his father, Scott and Tate.
"Both Tate and Scott gave back their time and energy to the community. All of them were fiercely independent. All of them were cheerleaders," Riley said, adding that his core foundation for the company is "to build a family culture."
"I breathe every day to make our company feel small; to make the lives of our Realtors easier and more professional by providing them the support and training, technology and tools, but never losing the family feel."
Every week he sends an email to everyone in the company, down to the courier, he said, and he writes 25 personal handwritten notes each week, too.
A self-described workaholic, "I’m available at anyone’s beck and call," he said.
According to its website, the Charlotte, N.C.-based company has more than 1,400 sales associates in North Carolina and South Carolina. It ranked as the nation’s 16th largest company by transaction sides and the 21st largest company by sales volume, based on 2010 data, according to the latest annual Real Trends report.
Since Riley’s arrival, 19 family-owned brokerages have joined Allen Tate, and the brokerage has grown to 36 offices.
"This business is a people business and I thrive on building a team, building a family. We are a company of family-owned businesses that all came together under one roof," he said.
With those firms, "I knew the culture match was there," he added.
The company’s culture is three-pronged, he said. The first part involves compensation.
"We walk a very fine line between giving our Realtors as much of the compensation that we can, but our Realtors fully understand that a portion of the fee needs to go back to client services and a portion has to go to tools, technology, (and) mentoring that will help them grow their business," Riley said.
"We hold to the thinking that it’s got to be a win-win-win: the client, the Realtors, and (company managers), together."
The second part of the culture is that the brand has to be known for giving back to the community with time, energy and money, Riley said.
"If you take care of the underpinnings of social services, of the public schools, take care (of) a community’s culture — we believe, selfishly, that that’s good for our business," Riley said. The company raises money each year for each of those causes.
For instance, the company holds an annual "FUNDay" for public education.
"The company and the agents write checks together. We play tennis, bunco, golf, karaoke, dance boat, spa, dance lessons. That day there’s something for everybody and they pay to play," he said.
"And we have sponsors come in that want to come in front of our Realtors. There’s a big silent auction (and) a live auction. We can make $150,000 a day."
The company also donates funds through the Allen Tate Foundation.
"We take a piece of every transaction and donate that to two main areas — economic development and research. (That) means recruiting companies, international and regional, to come to the Carolinas," Riley said.
The third part of the company’s culture is what Riley calls "one-stop shopping with choices." The Allen Tate Family of Companies includes Allen Tate Realtors, Allen Tate Relocation Services, Allen Tate Insurance Services, Allen Tate Mortgage, Allen Tate Home Services, Master Title Agency Inc., Builder Services Inc., and the Allen Tate School of Real Estate.
"Just about every (other) real estate company has an affiliation with a mortgage or insurance company, but it’s a one-size-fits-all model," he said.
"We’re in the insurance business, but instead of one insurance company opportunity, we have 11 … insurers," he added.
While people only buy a house every five or six years, Allen Tate’s multiple companies helps keep agents relevant in every stage of homeownership, Riley said.
For example, "you should turn to the Realtor before you remodel so you don’t do something foolish, so you don’t overimprove. That’s where Home Services comes in. Refinancing — that’s where (Allen Tate) Mortgage comes in," he said.