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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Joanie Coates wears a lot of hats

We can often point to “holy-cow” experiences in our youth that led us on a lifelong path. Joanie Coates, manager of Experiences, an aptly named group at First American Bank in Des Moines, Iowa, is no exception. When she was in high school, she was a foreign exchange student in the Netherlands and met people who remain her friends today.

“And when I was a senior, our class took a trip to New York City and Washington, D.C. Holy cow, my dad was a chaperone, and we had such memorable times. Those two events really did guide me to where I am today,” said Coates.

Learning from each other

Where Coates is today depends on her itinerary. She has strolled over the hills of Ireland, taken a train to Glacier National Park, climbed the Ollantaytambo ruins and Machu Picchu in Peru and enjoyed a motorcoach trip through South Dakota to Jackson Hole, Wyoming — all with members of Experiences, of course.

First American Bank
Headquartered in Clive, Iowa, First American Bank is celebrating its 75th year in business. With 15 branches in Iowa and four in southwestern Florida, the bank has assets of $1.8 billion.

Coates has been manager of Experiences for three years after spending 15 years in a variety of jobs that also placed her in the public eye, like managing special events and fundraisers and training employees at AAA. Those positions were enough to convince bank officials to hire Coates despite their desire to find someone with some banking experience.

“I was fortunate,” Coates said. “They kept the woman I was replacing — she was retiring after 18 years — and we went on a few trips together, and I quickly realized the patience and perseverance that was required.

“In my case, my group members are sometimes the ones who encourage me to persevere, like the time we were white-water rafting on the Snake River and I warned everyone time and time again not to fall in.

“Well, at one point, we were invited to get in the water, and I just jumped right in and immediately realized I couldn’t get back in the boat. The guide finally had the strength to yank me in, and I landed right on top of him — just squished him.”

This fun-loving director also travels to the 15 branches of First American Bank around Iowa. “We have an Experiences coordinator in each location, and we are working now with more teleconferencing, but I do try to attend all the seminars and social events,” she said.

“There is no doubt about it, I’m a lucky woman. I just love my job. I love not only the travel, but the planning and marketing. I like to make things happen for people.”

High-tech, tweets and twitters

Members of Experiences can be any age. Coates takes advantage of her own youth and the youthful attitudes of her members by introducing social networking any way she can.

“I embrace the new technology,” she said. “I try out new software any chance I get: We are contemplating a Facebook page; we are about to send our magazine, First American Bank Experiences: Travel, Learn, Share via the computer; and I have my own Twitter account.

Joanie Coates
First American Bank
Experiences program
Clive, Iowa

Born: Des Moines, Iowa

Education: Graduate of Southwestern Community College in Creston, Iowa, and McConnell Travel School in Minneapolis

Employment: Before her three years as manager of Experiences at First American Bank, Coates had 15 years of experience in group air reservations, special events and fundraising.

Family: Two sons, Jacob and Jordan

Hobbies: Photography, kayaking, reading, traveling and cheering for her favorite sports teams

“It was especially fun in Alaska. People would write and ask, ‘What are you doing?’ I simply tweeted, ‘Watching the whales!’

“Taking advantage of all of the newest communication tools is so important to keeping bank clubs alive today and in years to come. And, it’s good for me. My older brother once told me that he tries to learn something new every day, as it helps him become a better person. It’s a rule I try to live by.”

Giving back and trying new things

Although Coates may seem a newcomer to bank travel, she brings to the conference table some innovative ideas. In Experience’s magazine, she rates all upcoming tours not only by cost but also activity level.

“Because of our range of ages in Experiences, we have a diverse range of physical capabilities and budgets,” she said. “Defining tours by these two elements right up front makes it easy for group members to quickly decide if they might have interest.”

Coates also believes in reporting. She tracks average ages on trips and the financial benefits Experiences brings to her bank. “By reporting the number of members, the amount of deposits and the new monthly income our bank enjoys, it justifies Experiences,” she said.

Her fresh ideas also extend to travel. She is promoting multigenerational day trips that take grandparents and grandchildren to fun-for-all-ages places like the zoo and minor league baseball games. An avid kayaker, photographer and sports enthusiast, Coates also is looking into fun and simple pleasures like taking advantage of Iowa’s many walking trails and canoeing opportunities.

And, because she believes in giving back, she encourages her members to take part in activities like Holland America’s Walk for the Cure 5K that took place on the ship on Experiences’ Alaskan cruise.

Manager 2 Manager
• With patience and perseverance, keep your cool no matter the situation.

• Your biggest critic is yourself. Don’t sweat the small stuff. No one but you knew there were supposed to be mints on the pillows.

• Be as prepared as you can. Always have Plan B ready, and get ready to go to Plan C and Plan D.

“We also try to do our own community some good as often as possible. We do a great job at collecting canned goods at holiday events,” she said.

Like mother, like sons

Coates’ two sons, Jacob, 21, and Jordan, 16, are taking note of their mother’s love of adventure. And like Coates, their youthful experiences are forming their future. “Both boys are big sports fans and participants,” she explained.

“Right now, Jordan just got his first car, so his world is golden, and I think he wants to drive around the world. Jacob is going to the American Institute of Business in their sports and events marketing management program.

“I think I’ve been a factor in his career choice, as he knows that I love what I do, and he wants the same for himself.”

For today and tomorrow, these two young men, their mother and her lucky group members all have many memorable times in common. Coates might simply describe them as Experiences.