Ballooning with Wells Fargo

I’m not afraid of heights. But I am afraid of power lines. And 4 a.m. alarm clocks.

Had I known both would be factors impacting my fear level, I might not have agreed to ride in the Wells Fargo & Co. balloon with Don Pearson, the company’s new (as of November 2013) regional president, at Indianola’s National Balloon Classic. Luckily, the power lines that snatched a balloon the night before my first flight didn’t come into play, and 4 a.m. wasn’t all that bad. OK, that’s a lie. But waking up that early for our 5:45 a.m. meetup was more than worth it.

The Wells Fargo balloon crew was in Iowa from Albuquerque, N.M., for the first time to market the company and to take team members from area branches up for rides. In total during the nine-day balloon festival - which, according to our pilot, at approximately 80 balloons is one of the larger festivals in the country - the Wells Fargo crew was planning 16 flights. And I thought I was tired. As we waited, watching the crew assemble the balloon, Pearson told me this would be his second balloon flight; he had previously flown in the Wells Fargo balloon at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, a festival that now boasts about 500 balloons. Pearson said he was enjoying the transition from his previous job at Wells Fargo that was based in Portland, Ore. He shared that on his drive for the move to Central Iowa last January, he got caught in a blizzard or two. I asked about the differing weather, and he said he actually enjoys the cold, and dislikes the heat.

Good move, then; we have plenty of cold. Though I didn’t have the heart to tell him this had been a mild summer.

We hoisted ourselves into the balloon and held on tight as our 35-year veteran pilot gave us our only instructions. Basically, don’t touch anything, she said. I figured I could handle that, though I was a bit concerned about Pearson - he kept eying the dangling chain that made the fire erupt.

We lifted off, up into the beautiful morning sky, I took a photograph and tried to send out a tweet. But it turns out you’re not supposed to use cellphones in a hot air balloon. Our pilot said it was sort of like airplanes, and that during balloon festivals, the signals pinging from multiple phones up in the sky could in theory potentially throw off the towers and bring down the entire cellular network. I figured my tweet wasn’t worth it. Check out my photos here: bit.ly/1nlJJOf

Pearson and I tried to chat a bit, but the roaring burner was quite the impediment. I do know this: Like the man whom he is replacing - Scott Johnson - Pearson is already well immersed in the community. He serves on the Greater Des Moines Partnership board, the Iowa Business Council and the board for The Principal Charity Classic.

He also marveled at the efforts of our United Way, and the unique way that the organization was targeting very specific goals. From his outsider’s perspective, he said he hadn’t really seen that before.

Since I didn’t get to learn as much about Pearson as I had hoped, here’s a quick breakdown based on a nice article I found: Don’t be late; it’s his biggest pet peeve. He doesn’t like conference calls, loves eBay, has much respect for competitor USAA Insurance, has two grown children and a vacation home at Lake Tahoe, listens to Dave Matthews and Sarah Evans, bikes, hikes and reads - “The Extraordinary Leader” and “The One Minute Manager” have been the most influential books - and he was educated at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Plenty more can be found here.

We concluded our nine-mile trip by uneventfully landing our three-ton balloon in Milo resident Ron Miller’s yard. I learned later that Miller owns Ron Miller Construction and used to teach a construction class at Indianola High School. Each year, the class built a house and sold it to raise money for the school. Oh, and fittingly, Miller banks with Wells Fargo.

When we got back to the balloon field, I and one other first-time flier were required to take part in a ceremony. Our pilot told us a nice romantic story about how alcohol saved the first ballooners from an angry pitchfork-wielding French mob, then I took a “shot” of champagne and was doused with water. 

It all sounded a bit to me like an excuse to drink at 7 a.m., but I didn’t complain. Though I did wonder why only my picture was taken during the drinking. Hmmm ...

Immigration misconception

If you get our daily e-newsletters, you might have seen a few blog posts from numbers mastermind Nate Silver’s new website, FiveThirtyEight.com. All the site’s stories are based on crunching data, and I’m falling in love with the clarity it brings to a variety of topics. Immigration is a topic I’ve been trying to learn more about. Our columnist Dave Elbert recently wrote about the economic impact of Iowa’s immigrants (bit.ly/1APjmKC), and with the recent flare-up regarding Iowa accepting immigrant children (bit.ly/1mggnRH), it’s a topic growing in importance. An article on FiveThirtyEight.com analyzed immigration data to provide a more clear picture of who is or isn’t immigrating to the United States. The short answer: While most debate focuses on Latin America, most immigrants are not Latinos, they are Asians, and there are actually fewer undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today than in 2007. The illegal immigration population grew rapidly to a peak of 12.2 million in 2007, until it plateaued, then dropped, during the recession and now sits at an estimate of 11.7 million. In other words, the number of illegal immigrants remains high, but net illegal immigration is close to zero, and it’s likely net illegal immigration was actually negative between 2007 and 2012. A narrow majority of the illegal immigrants (52 percent) are from Mexico, the rest are from Asia, India and Central America. It’s an enlightening read, I promise: http://53eig.ht/1mItb8j

Networking in Des Moines

I wanted to pass along a new potential tool for those interested in networking in Des Moines. Networkdsm.com is the brainchild of Forty Under 40 honoree Mike Banasiak, who, with help from Jeff Ackley and Ryan Young, put together the calendar-esque site specifically to display networking opportunities in the area. Banasiak, Rachel Harms and our own IowaBiz.com blogger Danny Beyer also run a fun networking event they call a LinkedIn Social, which essentially is a way to help people network in “real life” with their LinkedIn connections. The next one is on Sept. 23 at Jester Park from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Learn more: http://dsmlinkedinsocial.wordpress.com