When Nicole Desjardins was 9, she and her cousins, Matthew and Kevin, owned and ran a make-believe business, Friel Executive Enterprises.

“We had board meetings and I was vice president of sales and marketing and Matthew was president,” she said.

Now 34, Desjardins reflects on why they played out that fantasy for several years.

“Apparently, we just wanted to grow up pretty quick and at 9, we were creating companies. Monopoly was our favorite game, if that tells you anything.”

Desjardins told me this story Wednesday while sitting in the lobby of Hampton Inn on Kennedy Memorial Drive in Waterville, where she is director of sales.

I was curious to know how this dynamo of a woman has gotten to where she is at such a young age. Not only did she beat 1,850 other nominees recently for sales director of the year for Hampton Inns, she also serves on more boards and committees than I can count and volunteers her time doing everything from serving food to homeless people to teaching high school and college students how to write a resume and interview for a job.

Desjardins is chairman of the board of directors for the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce. She is the youngest person ever to head that panel which, by the way, has apparently had only six chairwomen in its history.

She also is a member of Waterville Rotary Club; serves on the board of United Way of Mid-Maine, Inc.; is a member of Realize Maine Network, which works to attract young people to Maine and retain those who are here, and KV Connect, a networking group for young professionals; helps raise money for breast cancer by participating in the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure, for which she formed a team at Hampton Inn; walks in events to raise money for multiple sclerosis; and takes part in the annual polar bear dip to raise money for kids to go to summer camp.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Oh, and her penchant for wanting to help those less fortunate? When she was little, her aunt took her to the soup kitchen to volunteer. There, she saw children like herself, but who did not have what she had.

“I learned a lot of life lessons there.”

Desjardins cares about the community and really, truly likes people, aside from carrying a strong belief that success is easily attainable.

“It’s not hard; it’s simple. Get involved. If you’re going to be the face of the hotel, get involved. Know your community leaders. Most people want to do business with people who support the local community.”

Desjardins — articulate, upbeat and confident — looks like success, in a trim pant suit, short, neat brunette hair and brown eyes that maintain eye contact with everyone she encounters.

It was that energy, confidence and vibrant personality that convinced Hampton Inn general manager David Doucette to hire her for the sales job five years ago, even though she had had no experience in the hotel business.

She has helped increase revenues significantly at the hotel, which was built 11 years ago, he said.

“I just really liked the way she first sat down and talked, maintaining eye contact,” Doucette said. “It was just the whole persona, and her strength. She had a strength inside.”

Desjardins is a go-getter, yes, but she has a way of gauging people’s needs and expectations, he said.

“It’s her ability to work with them the way they want to be dealt with. Some people just want to sit back and relax. She’s not a pushy person.”

An Augusta native, Desjardins attended Catholic school and graduated from Cony High School.

She majored in psychology at Florida Institute of Technology while bartending on the side. Then she got a job at a women’s clothing store, quickly working her way up to store manager after three years. She ultimately moved back to Maine and landed a job as a cellular store manager before applying for the Hampton Inn job.

“I love what I do,” she said. “I can’t think of another job I’d rather do. I like that every day could potentially be different. My days here never look the same.”

She acknowledges that the reason she can work long hours and volunteer so much is that she is young, single and does not have a family waiting at home for her every day. She hopes to change that in the next few years, but for now, she remains driven to succeed in business and continue fulfilling her civic duties.

“I think it’s just an internal drive to do be the best,” she said. “I have too much of a competitive edge, probably.”

She smiles.

“Probably some of it, honestly, is just trying to beat Matthew.”

Amy Calder has been a Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]

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