In addition to her role as a partner at the human resources consulting firm, Smith Kjeldgaard & Hayes,Michelle Hayes, class of 1983, is
one of Thomas College’s newest trustees. She joined the board of trustees earlier this year, and we asked her to share a bit about her experience.
You built your early career at Hannaford, working your way up through the ranks. Tell us what you did as a new Thomas graduate to be successful after college.
What I did before graduation from Thomas led to success after graduation. I was a server at Cook’s Lobster House for four summers throughout college. I waited on interesting people that included local business owners, artists, Wall Streeters, military officers from Brunswick Naval Air Station, Bowdoin College professors, L.L. Bean leaders and executives, summer folks on the islands “from away,” and the other college students working at the restaurant.
I’m incredibly curious, so I was always asking questions: What do you love about your job? Would you select this career again? How did you get where you are? What’s your advice for a 20-year-old college student? What’s your background or what did you study? What’s key to success in business? How’d you get started? Being a restaurant server provided an incredible income, capacity to meet thousands of interesting people, and tremendous insight into human behavior and careers. As a partner at Smith Kjeldgaard, & Hayes what advice would you offer students and alumni about the business world today?
The business world is constantly evolving and changing, and we live in a robust global economy. It is imperative to stay relevant. Become a lifelong learner, keep abreast and comfortable with emerging technology, take classes, acquire marketable certifications, and stay connected to teenagers or millennials who were born comfortable with new technology. I have friends and colleagues from every decade, and I truly believe every person I meet in the world has something to teach. And network, network, network!
It is a small world (especially if you live in Maine) and a long life. Build a broad network of strong, trusted relationships and become known as someone who treats people well.
What are your fondest memories of Thomas?
A few of my fondest memories include the ease of approaching professors for help, insight, discussions, conversation, opinions, and feedback. They felt approachable and were not intimidating. Also, knowing I could walk into the cafeteria, a classroom, or a game and always find a friendly face and someone to sit with. And, the safety of a small, close-knit community where people cared about you as a person.
You and your Thomas alumni friends are still very tight. How have those friendships played a role in your life?
I actually asked my Thomas girlfriends for their input and, not surprisingly, our thoughts lined up quite well. We are a diverse group and have learned much from each other. Our friendships have been a source of support and love through life’s accomplishments, struggles, and careers. Our friendships are constantly evolving and growing just as our lives are.
Even if we were unable to frequently connect while building careers and families, we have the same ease of togetherness today as we did hanging out in the pub 30+ years ago! At Thomas, our friendships helped form our lives and direction—and now the friendships support it.
What encouraged you to get re-engaged at Thomas?
I am fascinated with the topic of leadership and truly believe education is the passport to the future! I was extremely fortunate in the earlier part of my 25-year Hannaford career to work for an innovative leader, Joyce Wilson-Sanford, and an inspirational visionary CEO, Hugh Farrington. I saw the power of strong leadership in energizing an organization, creating a positive culture, and achieving outstanding financial results. They loved their work, and people loved working with them. I was blessed with amazing role models and opportunities, and I want to support that type of leadership and energy.
This led to my Thomas re-engagement. I strongly believe President Lachance is a visionary leader, and the trustees support her vision and passion. Maine needs Thomas-educated graduates to be integral players in our economy.
Finally, imagine you are speaking to a high school student considering attending Thomas. How would you describe the college to them – and encourage them to attend?
I would emphasize that they have an entire support team at Thomas pulling for them to be successful. This includes the president, board of trustees, professors, advisors, and administration. The common goal and theme is how to ensure our students’ success!
If community is a driver for a prospective student, Thomas provides that sense of community. I spent seven years of my childhood living in small communities in Iceland and Italy. We knew our neighbors and felt supported and safe, which was comforting, knowing we were thousands of miles from our family and country. Attending Thomas was a continuation of “community” for me at age 17.
Thomas is an intimate community: small classes, strong leadership, and professors who know you. Internships are available and encouraged. Students get jobs and leave Thomas with marketable skills and networks.
*This was originally published in the Fall 2017 Thomas Magazine.