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Q&A: What Was Your Path — with Betty Buck

Betty Buck


Buck Distributing Company

When did you know this was the career you wanted? What drew you to the business?

I always wanted to be the beer girl since I was 4 years old and rode the forklift with a little dress and white socks and shoes every Saturday with my dad, Irwin Buck.  My mom didn’t think girls should wear pants! My dad started the business with one truck in 1946 and I loved the way it is a one-on-one, personal business. You are friends with your retailers and it is still that way today. It is a very personal business. You sell one case at a time.  It is very personal with your employees. I I always loved driving the trucks and forklifts, too.  I just liked being with my dad!

What are some of the challenges you had to overcome to be successful?

The biggest was there were absolutely NO women in the beer business. Still very few.  When my dad decided to retire in 1985 I had to be approved by Miller; in our industry our breweries have to approve the manager.  I flew to Milwaukee to be told I had six months to take all of their classes, including how to build a draft system, and then they would decide. During the six months my dad had a massive heart attack. I was finally approved after a not very lady-like conversation in Milwaukee, where I think they just wanted me out of the boardroom.

What’s your proudest accomplishment?

I was on the board of the National Beer Wholesalers Association and then in 2008 I became the first  and so far only female chair of the NBWA and its 2,500 beer distributors from across the United States. In 2009 I was the first female chair of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned along the way?

The biggest lesson I have learned is  to always believe in yourself and listen to yourself and your body.  Sometimes we push ourselves to hard and too far because so much more is expected.  We are only human and need to remember that.  But as women the one thing we don’t do well is reach back and help younger women step up.  I have been helped mostly by me, and that is sad.

You’re at the top of your profession. Are there any other mountains to climb? Are there other goals you are still striving to reach?

I don’t ever think you reach the top, or you need to retire and my daughter says she is not ready for that yet!  I am still striving to build our company bigger with more brands and areas. Of course, there is also getting the next generation ready to take over.

What advice would you share with younger women hoping to follow your career path?

I as a single mother of four young children was blessed with a saint for a housekeeper/other mother for my kids because I HAD to be at Buck because of my dad’s death and taking over the business. The unfortunate lesson I learned, although I had no choice, is that when that time is gone it is gone. Be careful with the choices you make. You won’t get that time back with your children.  But don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice and help. I was told by a great mentor once who was president of Verizon that if you called he would always answer. Well I didn’t believe, so I tried, he did. So if you need help, reach out to someone, you will be surprised they will help. I answer all phone calls.  I may not give you the advice you want, but I answer all calls.

Don’t ever give up your dreams. Who would think a little girl from Upper Marlboro could celebrate a company’s 70th Anniversary selling Beer but we did this weekend with our governor?

Betty Buck

Title: President

Organization: Buck Distributing Company

Family Details: Husband is Mark W. Howes, an attorney. Daughter Erin (sales manager) and her husband Steve Palmer both work at Buck Distributing Company; Son Tim Buck, Daughter Kelly Ingbretson, two stepchildren, John and Victoria Howes; three granddaughters, MacKenzie (5), Alison (3), Penelope (1) and two grandsons, Jackson (8) and Logan (6)

Education: Two years at University of Maryland; All Management, Sales and Strategic Planning at the Miller Brewing Training Center; certified as a trainer for Training for Intervention Procedures by Servers Of Alcohol.

Career Details: I have been at Buck for 40 years full time. I came here to computerize the company. We used to do everything with paper, pencil and lots of erasers. In 1985 my dad, who started this company in 1946, told me that “you are hungry and I am not, you need to take over the business.” I have been known ever since as the shark, and I think my dad was behind that!

Favorite Book: I don’t have a favorite. I have a passion for reading, just not enough time. I love to read a great romance novel where good always wins with a twist in the middle, usually from medieval time to 1800s. But I also love anything written by Mitch Albom. I fell in love with his books after reading  “First Phone Call from Heaven.”  I also loved “Doing What Matters” by James M. Kilts.  So you see my 800 books on my Kindle are wide reaching.

Top Vacation Destination: Any Windstar Cruise. Last year we went on a three-week Middle East cruise with Windstar. But favorite is every summer I take my whole family for two weeks somewhere. We unplug and just enjoy each other.

Hobbies: I love what I do but when my grandbabies were born they changed my world. I don’t do breakfast meetings  anymore. I cook them breakfast and a couple of mornings a week I get to take them to pre-school. I ride Harley’s. I have two.  I love doing anything I can that is sharing time with my family and friends, like cooking for them.

This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Path To Excellence: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Path to Excellence magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Path to Excellence.