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Renasant’s Shempert honored with Johnson Memorial Award




Imagine selling insurance products for 30 years while never considering yourself a salesperson.

Meet Debbie Shempert.

Now senior vice president of operations and compliance for Renasant Insurance in Tupelo, the personable Shempert admits she more or less fell into insurance sales as a career option in 1986.

“Becoming involved in the insurance business was the last thing on my mind,” she said. “I mean, who wakes up one morning and says they want to be in the insurance business?”

Shempert did.

And for four decades, Shempert has not only sold insurance, she’s been involved at every level of the industry, including holding the Accredited Advisor in Insurance designation, serving on multiple boards and teaching finance classes at the University of Mississippi’s Tupelo campus for a decade.

The Michigan native also has served as an expert witness in five insurance-related lawsuits.

Recently, Shempert was honored as the latest recipient of the J.H. Johnson Memorial Award at Independent Insurance Agents of Mississippi’s (IIAM) 118th Convention for her distinguished service to the industry.

Sitting in the audience with her fiance, Shempert was stunned to hear her name announced.

“Being chosen for the award was a complete shock,” she said. “Many of those previous winners have served as my mentors over the years. I don’t feel deserving, so I was very humbled and surprised at the same time.”

The award was created in memory of the late Col. James Henry Johnson, who was a founder of IIAM and served as its president on five occasions.  Founded in 1899, the IIAM represents a network of more than 260 independent insurance agencies located throughout Mississippi.

Other than technology advances, little has changed in the insurance industry, according to Shempert.

Listening to the client remains job one.

“I read a quote by (MBJ columnist Jeffrey Gitomer) a few years ago that really made an impression,” she said. “The quote was ‘Take care of the client and the money will take care of itself.’ You truly have to listen and pay attention to detail. Multi-tasking is a priority in this business.”

Since entering the industry in the mid-1980s, Shempert has seen lots of changes.

“Technology is the biggest change in the insurance business, but client relationships are pretty much similar to what they were 30 years ago,” she reasoned. “The customer always knows best and we strive to do things how they want it done.”

Though born in Michigan, Shempert grew up in Corinth as a self-described ‘tomboy’ playing touch football and building forts.

“I spent a lot of time in the woods with the boys,” she said, laughing.

A big Dallas Cowboys fan and a long-time football season ticket holder at Mississippi State, Shempert enjoys hiking in her spare time.

Sixty-mile hikes, specifically.

“My sister and I have been very supportive of the Susan Komen 3-Day walks for about 10 years,” she said.

“Over a three-day span, we walk 60 miles to raise money and bring awareness to cancer. We do this once every two years, and it’s been extremely gratifying.

“People in the (insurance) industry have always been very supportive of our efforts.”


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