By Evan SparksJodi Deuser was an accountant, but her dream was to own a restaurant. So the first person she went to see was a banker.
The restaurant was Frumpy Joe’s, a home-cooking joint known for its onion rings in Jonesburg, Missouri.
The banker was Dan Robb, whose office was right next door.
Robb was excited and supportive, and he helped facilitate a Small Business Administration loan for Deuser and her husband to buy the restaurant. “I wouldn’t have known that would have been a difficult process, but Dan really stepped out there and helped me achieve purchasing the restaurant,” she says.
With its location next to the bank, Robb and his staff would often walk right across the parking lot for lunch, and Dan would bring his wife, Dianna, for dinner. But after several years, Deuser felt like she was ready to step back and spend more time with her kids, so she told Dan she was going to sell the restaurant.
Not to be deterred, Robb saw an opportunity to bring Deuser in-house at the bank. She ended up taking a part-time job a long commute away, but Robb was persistent. “I saw Dianna at Taco Bell, and she said, ‘Jodi, you need to get ahold of Dan.’ I did, and that’s how I got here.” Today Deuser is VP and bookkeeping supervisor at Jonesburg State Bank.
As a banker, Robb first helped a customer achieve her dream. Then he helped her join a supportive team. And as Robb prepares to take office as ABA chair for 2022-23, he’s excited for the opportunity to give voice to the dream-builders and team-builders in banks across the country.
From maintenance man to bank president
Robb was fresh out of high school in 1985 when he found himself at a job service agency near his hometown of Cairo, Missouri, seeking employment. Growing up in farm country, he’d had plenty of experience—as a teenager, he’d hauled hay and worked at the local yogurt shop, the local paper and Sonic Drive-In.
That day, he took a job as the maintenance man for a local community bank. “I couriered coins from one branch to another, I swept the parking lot, I washed the windows, I cleaned the cooling tower of the air conditioning system,” Robb reflects. “I always dressed nice, because my parents said: ‘It may be maintenance, but you’re in a bank and you need to be professional.’”
Those first impressions paid off. Within a month, Robb was offered a part-time position as a teller—beginning a career in banking that will culminate with the chairmanship of the American Bankers Association in October 2022.
Not long after, Robb married his high school sweetheart, Dianna—they celebrate their 35th anniversary this year.
The Robbs moved to Kansas City for college, where they both worked in banks to put themselves through school. Dan worked for a large regional bank, then returned to the community banking sector in smaller Missouri markets. The Robbs grew their family, too—welcoming daughters Meagan and Morgan, now in their 20s.
In 2003, Robb was a community bank EVP when he got a call from a recruiter. “The recruiter said the bank was unique—it as a family-owned bank, but the family was not involved in day-to-day operations at all,” Robb recalls. It was a $40 million-asset, one-branch bank in Jonesburg, Missouri—and it wasn’t too far from where Dan and Dianna had grown up.
Stewarding a legacy
The family was the Orr family, who has owned the bank for more than four decades. Scott Orr was a lawyer in nearby Columbia, and he and a partner were approached to buy Jonesburg State Bank, founded in 1921, to keep ownership independent.
Robb took the job and jumped into the deep end. Robb recalls his first day on the job as the bank’s incoming president. “Scott Orr walked me around, introduced me to folks, and by 10 o’clock in the morning, he said ‘Good luck’ and left me there as president,” he says.
Orr chuckles when asked about this story. “I could have stayed here with Dan for several days or several weeks, but I knew Dan had the capability to build his own culture,” he says. “If he was going to be the CEO—on-premise, full-time—he had to be the one who sets the decisions and priorities.”
Those priorities? Sustainable growth without compromising on service. “With Dan Robb’s leadership, we have developed into an institution that delivers virtually every service that any large bank has—except we deliver it quicker and with a more personal touch,” says Orr. “If you call Jonesburg State Bank during business hours, a live person will answer the call, and that person will own the issue from the time it’s presented until it’s concluded.”
As the bank continued its technology transformation, it also grew—expanding from a single branch operation to the town of Warrenton, a higher-population area east of Jonesburg in 2005, and then northwest to Montgomery City, where Robb hired staff let go after a regional bank closed its branch in 2018. (Robb notes with a smile that Jonesburg State Bank was able to basically acquire a branch without having to pay the premium for it.) “We’re trying to do more for these little towns that have relied on banks to do things for them,” says Jim Orr, one of Scott’s sons and vice chairman of the bank. Today the bank has reached more than $131 million in assets.
All the while, the Orrs have trusted Robb to steward their investment wisely. “I used to introduce them to people as ‘This is my boss’ or ‘This is one of the owners of the bank,’” says Robb. “They asked me to stop doing that and say ‘We’re partners. We’re in this together.’ They literally treat me like a partner. We’re candid with each other. We’re open with each other. It’s been a very successful relationship.”
Dianna: ‘Part of the team’
Another successful relationship has been Robb’s partnership with Dianna. “Without a doubt, Dan’s success is tied to Dianna—her personality and her ability to lead and be part of the team,” says Ed Orr, the bank’s chairman.
As a banking professional herself, Dianna has also worked at the bank in different capacities over the years, in addition to raising Meagan and Morgan. Both grown now, Meagan lives and works near St. Louis, and Morgan lives with her husband in Colorado. (The playlist for Morgan’s wedding reception, held on Sept. 21, featured the Earth, Wind and Fire song of the same name. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone dance so hard to a song,” laughs Julie Brookman, a Warrenton restaurant owner, of Dan.)
At the Robbs’ home—the “Robb Ranch,” a hilly spread where the rolling farmland begins to drop down to the Missouri River floodplain—Dan and Dianna love to host parties and community events. During the pandemic, for example, the Robbs hosted an outdoor lobster boil to raise funds for the WISE Foundation, which supports scholarships and programs in Warren County Public Schools. During the dinner, a heavy rainstorm began, and dinner moved into the Robbs’ garage. But the propane-fueled lobster pots had to stay outside.
Kyle Smith, SVP and chief lending officer at Jonesburg State Bank, recalls with a smile the sight of Dan manning the lobster pots in the pouring rain, coolly smoking a cigar while one hand stirred the lobsters and the other tried to keep a tent from blowing away. “Dan and Dianna would do anything to make people feel comfortable for a good cause,” Smith says.
“They just make a great team,” adds John Klebba, chairman and CEO of Legends Bank in Linn, Missouri.
Coaching the team
Robb’s leadership style is to manage by teaching, says Cheryl Wisdom, a SVP at Jonesburg State Bank who wears many hats as head of HR, retail banking officer and Jonesburg branch manager. “He’s always looking for that opportunity to teach us more about banking.”
Deuser agrees. “As a boss, he’s an energetic teacher,” she says. “I go to him if I ever have a question about what is this with banking, ‘Why are things this way?”—for example, bank accounting, where credits and debits are reflected differently than in other businesses.
And Robb appreciates being a lifelong learner, too. “If he doesn’t have the answer, he wants to help you figure it out,” Deuser says.”
And as he did with Deuser, Robb is always looking for opportunities to bring the right people onto the team. Heather Haas—the bank’s VP, compliance officer, loan officer and Warrenton branch manager—got a call from Dan when she was home sick one day. “I’d never met or spoken with him before,” she says, but Robb let me know there was an opportunity at Jonesburg State Bank. “A customer had recommended me who’d worked with me at my prior bank.”
Robb’s key indicator of a promising team member: “when I see someone who wants to interact back”—who has a level of enthusiasm that engages customers. Once the right talent comes on board, then “we have develop them into their careers,” he adds.
Robb brings teamwork to bear on other challenges too—for example, through Jonesburg State Bank he’s supported shared efforts to recruit employers to Warren and Montgomery counties. In 2013, the two counties recruited a $100 million CertainTeed shingle manufacturing plant to right outside Jonesburg, near the line between the two counties. “We figured out that trying to one up each other wasn’t the way to draw in people—we were both going to benefit from industries and businesses coming into the area,” says Jeff Arens, a local business owner and treasurer of the Montgomery City Area Chamber of Commerce.
Steve Etcher, a consultant who works with the Greater Warren County Economic Development Council, adds that “Dan’s been very involved in how we bolster our workforce training programs [and get]the right housing mix. It’s not just about attracting a job; it’s about attracting the talent.” More recently, Warrenton secured the American Foods Group’s next processing facility, a $500 million plant bringing 1,400 direct jobs and 6,000 induced jobs, Etcher says. “Dan and his team have been really good at rolling up their sleeves and saying ‘How do we make this deal work?’”
Target: winning on policy
For Robb, being a banker isn’t only about serving clients—it’s about building relationships with everyone. Including policymakers.
When Robb was a young banker, he was invited to go to Jefferson City through the Missouri Bankers Association’s Target Banker program. “I learned very quickly that it’s an easy process!” he recalls. “A pivotal moment was when my state senator called me. ‘Dan, I have an issue that’s come up. It’s a banking issue and I’d like your perspective.’ They really do listen and they like to know what we have to say.”
Robb’s state representative, Jeff Porter, echoes the sentiment. “When there are issues that come up, I usually reach out to him for advice,” he says, and “I always appreciate him tapping me on the shoulder.” Jackson Hataway, president of the Missouri Bankers Association, notes that Robb has a model way of interacting with lawmakers—knowing how to build a real relationship and be friendly in making the ask.
Whetting his appetite for advocacy in Missouri, Robb soon got engaged with ABA and MBA in federal level advocacy, serving as chairman of MBA and chair of ABA’s Government Relations Council. “At first, I was nervous about going to Washington,” Robb recalls. “it was a bigger stage, but it was the same process as at our state capitol.”
Robb brings his relationship-building focus to D.C. too. “His total knowledge of the banking system and industry is very helpful when he brings an issue to us,” says Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), a former banker and senior member of the House Financial Services Committee. “He understands not only the issue and the consequences of some solutions but also bringing a solution that quite frankly would work. It’s always a good conversation when you sit down with Dan.”
Robb remains focused on the future of banking at large—and Jonesburg State Bank in particular. That’s why he dedicates so much effort to recruiting the right talent. For example, when Kyle Smith worked at a larger bank and was considering moving out of the region to develop his career, Robb told him: “Come be a lender and work for me in your hometown instead of relocating out of the area. You can still serve your community and further your career here.”
“Dan is very much a people person,” says longtime friend Max Cook, who is the outgoing CEO of the Missouri Bankers Association. “He takes care of his customers and employees very well. He really embraces the idea that that’s really what this world is all about: if we don’t try to take care of people, we have nothing.”
He inspires his employees—and, through his industry leadership roles, bankers across Missouri and the country—to do their best. He trusts his team.
And they know they’re on a strong team, too. Says Smith: “We can always trust Dan to have our backs.”
Note: Some material from this story was originally reported by Monica C. Meinert for a 2019 article in the ABA Banking Journal.