Eventually, he got a taste for something a little different, and the former airman decided to take a flyer: He put his GI Bill to use, and enrolled in culinary school at the Atlanta outpost of famed Parisian cooking institution Le Cordon Bleu, and set out to live a chef’s life, indulging in his passion for the pit: “In culinary school, I wrote six different papers about barbecue,” he says. “Any piece of meat that I can smoke, I will make it the best you’ve ever had.”
While working the line, he met his future wife, a Nashville native. Love won out, and Buck soon found himself calling Music City home, too. But restaurant work that paid a living wage proved hard to come by, and with a baby on the way and a stepson already in tow, three years ago he decided to hang up his chef’s whites and, at a family member’s urging, took a frontline job working the phones at the T-Mobile call center.
As with everything before, Buck’s focus and determination made him a star player – but his manager thought his skills and personality would be better suited as a team leader, and quickly called him up to be a coach.
“There were three things I saw in Buck off hand,” says that manager, Brian Thomas. “Respect, drive and discipline, in that order. I knew those three traits would be perfect for our site and company.” Along with that thing that is unique to Buck: “His ability to command a room with his presence.”
But there’s another aspect to Buck’s success in the role, one that speaks to the size of his heart: “I believe that coaching has to be somewhat fluid, because everyone has a different skillset, a different personality,” he says, a good lesson for team leaders of every stripe. “So, if you have a rigid, blanket style of coaching, then you’re not going to get everyone with that. You’re either going to lose people’s interest, or you’re not going to gain their trust.”
Yes, Buck’s size may set him apart, but it’s his character, dedication and ambition that make him stand out in a crowd. Well, that, and his world-class ribs.