Devon Person ’10 Named a Distinguished Young Alumni Award Recipient
By Kamilah Heslop
As a natural-born leader, Devon Person shines both inside and outside the boardroom.
Since graduating with his bachelor’s degree in textile engineering from the Wilson College of Textiles in 2010, Person has been promoted nine times within seven industries at three separate Fortune 500 companies.
Repeatedly, he praises the Wilson College of Textiles and his lifelong mentors, Distinguished Professor Jon Rust and Professor and Department Head Jeff Joines, for putting him on this unique path to success. It all started with a happenstance run-in with Professor Joines at a local high school fair. After a lengthy discussion and countless questions, the charismatic professor convinced him to study textile engineering.
“Dr. Joines gets all the credit for introducing me to NC State and recruiting me to the college,” Person says, chuckling. “Dr. Rust and Dr. Joines have both been so impactful in my life. I tell as many people as possible that I wouldn’t be where I am now if it weren’t for these two men and their belief in me.”
Today, Person serves as the vice president of supply chain at Hanesbrands, Inc., where he has made significant contributions to the multinational apparel company. He’s been tasked with leading global initiatives in support of the company’s plan to grow its popular brand Champion by $1 billion over the next four years. This detailed plan includes developing new production capabilities with automation, implementing new technologies across the entire company, and redefining the supply chain organizational structure to be inclusive of the new skills required for the company’s future.
“No day looks the same for me,” Person explains. “I have a global team, so we focus on the organization’s challenges. I always have a plan when I come in each day, but there is usually some adjustment. I like that, and I enjoy being able to bring people together to solve a large problem that we wouldn’t be able to tackle as individuals.”
In recognition of his professional achievements, service to the textile industry, community involvement and alignment with the college’s core values, Person was named the esteemed recipient of a Wilson College of Textiles 2023 Distinguished Young Alumni Award.
Established in 2021 by the Dean’s Young Alumni Leadership Council (DYALC), the Distinguished Young Alumni Awards program recognizes graduates under the age of 40 who have made significant contributions to the textile industry and their communities. The DYALC works to promote the Wilson College of Textiles and the college’s fundraising arm, the North Carolina Textile Foundation, and fosters engagement among young alumni.
“In the years I’ve known Devon, I’ve seen him experience some trying times, and he has always demonstrated grace, courage, humility, kindness and fairness,” Professor Rust says. “Devon has truly distinguished himself in his personal and professional life, and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of our college’s Distinguished Young Alumni Award.”
Finding his footing in textiles
It’s surprising for many to hear that Person struggled during his initial year on campus.
His experience growing up as a self-starter in Carthage, North Carolina, which is home to less than 3,000 residents, caused Person to push himself entirely too hard. Not only was he an ambitious full-time college student, but he also worked more than 50 hours a week at a local fast food restaurant.
Person used most of his earnings to return home to support his family as often as possible. This was especially important because his mother’s home burned down during his first year at NC State. He even gave his car to his mother, which she used to help family members get to and from work.
“I was struggling to keep up with the coursework, my classes and my personal life,” Person shares.
After finally opening up to Rust and Joines about the difficult time he was having, Person was connected with a paid undergraduate research position. This enabled him to quit his full-time job and focus solely on his classwork and conducting meaningful research.
“On top of that, Dr. Rust mentored me personally,” Person explains. “I had an hour with him every other week for my entire four years on campus, and he never missed a meeting. I love that man. If it weren’t for Dr. Rust, I wouldn’t have graduated from college or been on this career track. We still keep in contact to this day.”
The Wilson College of Textiles offered him intimate class sizes, engaging faculty members and encouragement from the entire college community. Witnessing others’ unwavering belief in his abilities motivated Person to not only meet their expectations but to exceed them.
He wasn’t just the first person in his family to graduate from college; Person walked across the commencement stage twice in 2010 to earn two bachelor’s degrees: one in textile engineering and the other in industrial and systems engineering.
When asked what piece of advice he’d offer the next generation of textile leaders, Person didn’t hesitate before dropping this gem.
“I always say ‘play bigger than your role’,” he shares. “Don’t just stick to your job description. If you walk into a room and there is a discussion happening, add value. Be willing to speak up and be courageous enough to commit to your idea because you never know who is listening and where that opportunity can lead you.”
Inclusivity guides his volunteerism
An important goal that Person anticipates being realized is an increase in the representation of Black leaders and a sense of belonging within the textile industry and beyond.
“One of the things I struggled with is that not a lot of people I grew up with had the same opportunities I did,” Person explains.
This led to an ingrained passion for diversity, inclusivity and equity which, in turn, inspired him to lead employee resource groups for African American employees at every company he’s served: General Electric, Eaton Corporation, SPX Flow and Hanesbrands.
“This is a huge passion of mine because originally, there was a lot of guilt there,” he says. “It’s a difficult thing to wrap your head around, so I had to switch my mindset to ways I can help. My passion is using my platform to create opportunities for others to give them hope, similar to what Dr. Rust did for me.”
Additionally, Person has developed corporate community service initiatives with the African American Leadership Society, the YMCA, Habitat for Humanity, the Boys and Girls Club, and 15 historically Black colleges and universities.
This year’s Wilson College of Textiles Distinguished Young Alumni Award wasn’t Person’s first honor as an NC State alumnus. He was named the recipient of the 2021 Industrial and Systems Engineering Young Alumni Award by the College of Engineering. This honor recognized the ways he has continuously distinguished himself through professional practice and service.
His hard work, determination and perseverance are attributes that those who know Person, including his treasured mentor Professor Rust, have seen him exhibit time and again.
“I respect him as much as anyone I’ve known,” Professor Rust says, smiling. “He has been a faithful and loving son, husband and father, and I could not love him more if he were my son. He’s my hero.”