Associate Spotlight: Buddima Wanniarachchi

From Second Chances to Taking Chances.

As one of Sam’s Club’s youngest club managers, Buddima Wanniarachchi is proof positive that taking risks can yield big rewards.

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When Buddima Wanniarachchi took a part-time café position at the Sam’s Club in College Station, Texas, he was looking for a college gig to help pay his student bills.

“I wasn’t thinking about Sam’s Club as a career at the time. I was focused on school and this was just a part-time job,” Buddima said.

It didn’t take long for Buddima to discover that working in prepared foods was not the right fit for him. He was pursuing his business management degree at Texas A&M University, and with a full course load on his plate, his motivation for the job began to wane.

“John Turner was my manager, and he really took the time to know his associates. When I hit a rough patch and was not showing up, John took me aside and instead of letting me go, he said, you know, maybe this specific department isn’t for me,” Buddima said.

John, now the club manager for a club in Houston, Texas, recalled that initial conversation. “I was part of the management team that hired Buddima, and when I first met him, I saw huge potential. He was smart, energetic and learned quickly. So, when I noticed he’d started to struggle with work, I took him aside and challenged him to look at Sam’s Club as not just a college job but as a place to launch a career.”

“That interaction, and the fact that my manager recognized something in me, really changed my perspective,” Buddima said.

John encouraged Buddima to explore other Sam’s Club departments and to actively seek opportunities for growth. When a skilled position as a cake decorator became available, Buddima applied, despite never having made a cake, much less decorated one.

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“I trashed a lot of cakes in the first few months,” he said, laughing. “I was not allowed to make any orders!” The other decorators on the team came to his aid, and with their help, he honed his piping skills.

Buddima spent 12 months as a cake decorator before deciding to seek out a promotion. John’s words had unlocked something in his mind, and with leaders encouraging him to tackle new challenges, Buddima’s career began to take off! Over the next four years, Buddima took on new challenges in merchandising and member services, eventually serving as a market champion for the greater Houston and Austin area. Then, just ten months after he accepted a co-manager position for a club in Houston’s Willowbrook neighborhood, Buddima stepped into his current role: club manager in his hometown of Austin, Texas.

Creating Opportunities

At 24 years old, Buddima is one of the youngest associates to assume the title of club manager. After all, it was fewer than five years ago that Buddima was piping roses onto Sam’s Club birthday cakes while finishing his business classes at Texas A&M. While he credits his fellow associates and managers with teaching him technical skills and providing him with opportunities to learn, he gives extra credit to John Turner, the manager who took Buddima aside and challenged him to reimagine his path at Sam’s Club.

Buddima Wanniarachchi speaks with fellow Sam's Club associates in a club setting.

“I never saw Sam’s Club as a career until John gave me that second chance. Every time I’ve been promoted, I’ve called or texted John and said thank you.” Buddima said. “He really pushed me forward.”

Today, Buddima does not just consider Sam’s Club a career in retail, he sees it as a job in people.

“It’s my goal as a manager to know every single associate’s name and something about them,” Buddima said. “How can I support and help them if I don’t know who they are?” Whether he’s manning a forklift or lending a hand with the curbside crew, he wants to lead by example and create a strong culture of belonging for every associate on the floor.

“I was actually at the café all day yesterday, helping them out,” Buddima said, smiling at the full circle moment. “And I love getting in early to help with merchandising.” The one thing he hasn’t done? “Decorated a cake! But I’m sure it will happen.”

Buddima Wanniarachchi loads products into a member's car. They share a smile with each other.

Buddima is a cheerleader for the more than 100 associates in his club. He’s also a champion of second chances. “I had an associate who was struggling to show up on time to his 4 am shift,” Buddima said. “I sat down with him and discovered his passion was for cars. I asked him if he’d ever thought about the Tire and Battery Center (TBC)? He said, ‘No one’s ever really talked with me about it.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m talking with you now.’”

“I’m a big believer in giving associates opportunities. I want associates to love what they do. And I want them to have opportunities and challenges like I did,” Buddima said. “I’m proof that some people will thrive in a different department than the one they started in. You never know who will surprise you.”