Debbie Shempert of Tupelo is the second female president of the Mississippi Association of Independent Insurance Agents in that organization’s long history. She is also many other things, including a community volunteer, sports enthusiast and mountain climber.
The outgoing 45-year-old doesn’t mind poking a little fun at herself. “I’m just five feet tall and people might think I’m just fluff,” she said. “They might be surprised to look at me and think about me going mountain climbing and on 60-mile walks, but I believe in setting a goal and doing it.”
Shempert, along with her mother, sister and aunt, has participated in two 60-mile walks for the Susan Komen Breast Cancer Fund in Atlanta and San Diego. Participants raise money and walk 20 miles per day for three days. Shempert solicited donations from other insurance agents around the state. Her duties as the 109th president of the statewide agents association prevented her from walking this year, but she looks forward to walking again next year.
“We don’t have any cancer in our family and we walked out of thankfulness for that,” she said. “We’re already looking at doing it again.”
In her business life, Shempert is senior vice president and operations manager for Renasant Insurance and also serves as assistant agency manager of the Tupelo office. She received the certified insurance counselor designation in 1986 and the accredited advisor in insurance in 2000. She has served in numerous capacities of the 250-agency-member association.
She entered the insurance industry 21 years ago when a friend with an agency who knew Shempert’s parents needed a good employee. The young Shempert began as a commercial customer service representative, and through the years moved into production, service and management, remaining with the same agency that was purchased by Renasant Bank seven years ago.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she says now. “I’ve learned many things. At first, I couldn’t stand being in front of people, but now I teach continuing education for the association.”
In her present duties, Shempert oversees work flow, problem solving and compliance for operations in Corinth, Louisville and Tupelo.
Describing herself as a people person, she says the most rewarding thing about her work is problem solving.
“I like to deal with customers,” she said. “Normally, I see them when they have a problem so I call myself chief feather smoother; that’s a title I gave myself. I’m a hybrid because I’m on salary and commission. I still write business and call on some accounts.”
If she could change anything about the insurance industry, Shempert says it would be the public perception of the industry.
“I would like to better educate the public as to what insurance agents do,” she said. “We are every bit as professional as physicians and lawyers and we also must have continuing education. The association is very much trying to do it through groups and as individuals. We’re getting ready to launch a campaign to better inform people.”
Noting that she is ready to hit the campaign trail on behalf of her profession, Shempert said, “I guess I’m in the public relations business.”
The education aspect for the public and association members plays a vital role in goals Shempert set for her presidency. “Our association is strong and I want to leave it as strong and as respected as when I became president,” she said. “Insurance education is a realistic goal for me personally and professionally. I will miss being president but I will stay active on the executive committee.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.