When Barry Cox was a sophomore at Georgia Tech in the late 1970s, he was in a tough spot.
He was on full scholarship to play tennis for the Yellow Jackets and was determined to earn a chemical engineering degree. Being a student-athlete at an engineering school was two full-time jobs, and it impacted him on the academic side to the point that, during his sophomore year his scholarship was revoked, and he was forced to redshirt a season.
As he sat in a chair at the guidance counselor’s office discussing academics, the counselor unwittingly said the magic words that moved Cox to achieve what many thought was too ambitious of a goal.
“The guidance counselor said, ‘Maybe this is a wall that you can’t climb,’” and Cox replied, “‘Thank you,’ now I know to make sure I get out of here with that degree.”
It was at least the second time he’d been rebuffed by a school official in his quest to be a chemical engineering major while playing on the tennis team. During his recruiting process, Clemson’s coach wouldn’t allow him to play on scholarship if he pursued that degree.
However, with Cox’s insistence he could have it both ways, coupled by his competitiveness, he emerged from the chemical engineering department in 1982 with the coveted degree while playing tennis for the Jackets in his junior, senior and redshirt seasons.
“It was a lesson in time management,” Cox said. “Being on the tennis team, there wasn’t a lot of guidance at the time on how to set your class schedule or manage your time. I realized it was a seven-day-a-week job. I was up early in the morning running. In the afternoon, I’d practice with the team in between classes. I’d study five hours a night, Thursday through Sunday, and if there was any playtime, it was Friday and Saturday.”
In 1986, he founded his namesake conglomerate, The Cox Group. Based in Mount Vernon, Indiana, TGC’s companies grew from a single customer, and one site, to more than 100 customers and locations across 18 states. Amid the success, he has kept his alma mater in mind, and he’s become increasingly involved in supporting Georgia Tech Athletics over time.
Recently, Barry and Nikole, his wife, committed $500,000 to the Athletic Scholarship Fund’s Competitive Drive Initiative, and his contribution was matched by the Georgia Tech Foundation, having a $1,000,000 impact on student-athletes at Georgia Tech. He was also named to the A-T Fund’s board of directors this year.
In addition, Cox has donated to the Edge Center renovations and to the tennis program over the years.
His reasons for giving back to Georgia Tech Athletics stem from his time as a student-athlete.
“It took me five-and-a-half years of working extremely hard to get out of school,” Cox said. “When looking at the athletic program at Georgia Tech, there’s not a lot of 4- and 5-star athletes trying to graduate from a college that is so challenging. So, I think the people who participate in Georgia Tech Athletics are remarkable.
“When I was there, we beat Alabama in 1981, then we lost the next nine games. But Alabama was the No. 1-ranked team when we played, which proves that even though we may not have the best-ranked athletes in the world, with a combination of hard work and patience we can compete at a very high level, all around the country, in a very tough conference.”
Cox has also donated to the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering as well as his fraternity, the Kappa Alpha Order.
“At my age, you sort of want to thank the world that made a difference in your life,” he said. “At the time, I never understood why I was studying all that theory, but then you go into the real world and say, ‘Wow, I’ve got a really good toolbox to reach into when I’m figuring how to solve problems.’”
In Indiana, he’s become a brand ambassador for Georgia Tech Athletics. He bought a 1930 Ford Model A Sport Coupe, and after a series of renovations, it became an exact replica of The Ramblin’ Wreck. He drives it around Mount Vernon to much fanfare, and it was featured prominently at his recent wedding.
“Everyone loves it,” he said. “There’s a young man here who is the son of a Georgia Tech graduate who recognized it. Adam Bratton, who plays on the Jackets’ golf team, is from Newburgh, which is about 30 miles east of Mount Vernon, and he knew about it. Others I’ve talked to have been inspired to apply to Georgia Tech recently.”
When Cox looks back at his time at Georgia Tech as a student-athlete, and the success he later parlayed from it in his professional life, hard work is what stands out the most.
“I may not have been the smartest cookie in the game, but no one will outwork me,” he said. “I will work to figure it out until I’m successful.”