Story by Kathy McPherson
Collin Suggs ’08 is a young man who sets goals for himself and pursues them with almost relentless determination.
That’s what gets him up at 5 a.m. to lift weights; has him on his computer at 7 a.m. for a jump on the work day; keeps him on back-to-back work calls until 6 p.m. and then on his laptop before bedtime to stay on top of things; and holds him to a plan that will allow him to retire at age 55.
It’s a lot for a 31-year-old who said he struggled academically at Durham Academy, but he credits that with setting him up for success in college at N.C. State University and in his career with software company Red Hat.
“Being at DA was such a challenging academic environment and I was always towards the bottom of the academic scale, which probably isn’t a great story necessarily to tell students,” Suggs said, “but I think it’s important that current students understand just because you’re not at the top of the class academically, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be unsuccessful in life. I graduated Durham Academy [in 2008] with a 2.44 GPA — nothing that I’m proud of there — but DA gave me the foundation, the work ethic to go on and do well in college and really accelerated succeeding in my career.”
Suggs remembers an Upper School assignment to memorize a Shakespeare poem for Lanis Wilson’s English class. “At the time, I wasn’t mature enough to care. I wasn’t going to memorize it, but he [Wilson] stayed on me. I never did memorize it, but I had to go to his room every day for probably a month straight to attempt it. I think it was building that work ethic and perseverance that really helped shape who I am today.”
He graduated from N.C. State with a degree in business administration, a concentration in marketing and a minor in economics. While in college, he did internships each summer, worked as a server at P.F. Chang’s restaurant and started his own painting business. Suggs turned family financial struggles into a positive, saying the experience helped him become a stronger person and vowing he would “be successful in whatever career I choose.”
He took a job right out of college with a payroll company, then stepped away from that job. The combination of a stressful sales environment and a serious downturn in his grandfather’s health was impacting Suggs’ life. He took some time and went back to work at P.F. Chang’s to pay bills and buy time between jobs. Suggs’ next job was a warehouse and counter sales manager for a plumbing company in Greensboro, involving a 75-minute commute from Raleigh each morning and afternoon.
“A year after I started working there — I met a lot of great people, learned a ton of stuff — I got very fortunate. I was living next to a recruiter who recruited for Red Hat. I always wanted to go to [work at] Red Hat, and I’d applied in the past, but was never able to get my foot in the door. So just randomly living next to this recruiter, she stopped me one day walking into my apartment and said, hey, I see you drive this plumbing truck. Are you in sales, though? I am in sales. Would you be interested in a job at Red Hat? I’m like, yes, I’ve been trying to get in there.”
Suggs interviewed and landed the job. That was six years ago, and it was “a very low-level position in the sales organization at Red Hat, which to me was worth it because I knew if I got my foot in the door I’d be able to prove myself and I did just that. After eight months of doing the role they hired me for, I was promoted from lead generation to inside sales. I did inside sales for six months and they promoted me to mid-market sales. I did mid-market sales for one year and then they promoted me to enterprise or field sales. I spent the last three years working with state and local education customers in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, really expanding the Red Hat footprint in those areas.” He was one of Red Hat’s top reps for the last three years, and in January 2021 accepted a management position to rebuild a mid-market team.
“I love working at Red Hat, but for me it’s a means to an end,” Suggs said. “I’ve set my retirement goal for 55. I want to get out of the workforce early. Part of the reason is because I work so hard right now, I believe I’ve earned the ability to retire early. … Red Hat is my means to get to that retirement level. I do enjoy my coworkers. I am learning a ton. My plan is to be the vice president of all of public sector sales here at Red Hat. I’ve got another step, two for sure steps, I need to take in order to get there. But definitely at my age and trajectory, I’m on course for that. There are certain milestones at work from a financial standpoint and from a career development standpoint that I’m trying to pursue aggressively.”
Suggs said work consumes his life and his wife, Vicky, is very supportive of that. They met when he was working in Greensboro, married in November 2020 in an online courthouse ceremony due to COVID-19 restrictions, and will have a wedding in September.
Fitness, cars and helping others are also part of the mix for Suggs.
“I was probably one of the smallest boys at DA, so when I graduated and went to college I wanted to eat more, get bigger, stronger,” he said. “Fitness became a pretty important part of my life, and Vicky shares that passion. We built a home gym, so when COVID happened we were able to continue with our exercise and fitness routine.” Thomas Davidson ’08, a DA classmate, works out with them most mornings and is Suggs’ financial advisor.
Suggs readily admits he is a car buff. “I really enjoy fast cars. I enjoy slow cars, like 4x4 Jeeps. When it’s a fast car — BMW, Porsche, Mustang, you name it — I probably tried it, had it for a little while and sold it.” He bought a 1995 Jeep Wrangler, and DA classmate Grant Fowler ’08 has introduced him to the overlanding and rock crawling culture.
It was through yet another DA connection that Suggs was recruited to serve on the board of Students to Scholars, a nonprofit that helps promising middle school students attend independent schools.
“Between Students to Scholars and doing Big Brothers, Big Sisters, it’s really opened my eyes,” Suggs said. “I grew up very middle class. I had wealthy grandparents on one side, and I had rural, not so well-off grandparents on the other side. So growing up, I had this interesting blend of spending some summers on the golf course at Treyburn and other summers on the farm picking tobacco in Clayton, North Carolina. It really helped shape who I am, and I love to help people that want to help themselves. … Seeing children that haven’t been given the best opportunity and being able to talk to them and help them grow into who they are and give them a chance.”
Suggs lives near downtown Raleigh. He said it’s an area that has been undergoing gentrification, and “I’m always willing to help out the neighbors that might have the older house on the street. They’re willing to take that first step. And I am passionate about the youth because it’s not their fault that they were born into an environment that didn’t give them all the tools that I was very fortunate to have access to. That’s something that’s been pretty important to me.”