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LeadHER highlights hot topics that impact women in the profession, the latest WIFS news, and important industry updates. We invite our members and industry thought leaders to submit articles to be featured in upcoming monthly LeadHER blog posts. Please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you're interested in providing an article.

 Diligence and intelligence were the keys she used to unlock doors.

nagengast heather smaller      Heather Nagengast
      Vice President, Wealth Management and Investment Services
      Ameritas Life Insurance Corp.


 Stories of real women who conquered challenges inspire us all. Last time I wrote here, I shared the story of one of our earliest trailblazers, Sis, Hoffman, a depression- era superstar. Now I’d like to move to an amazing midcentury success story, Thelma Poe.

nagengast heather smaller

Empowering Women Financial Leaders, Yesterday and Today:

The Sis Hoffman Story

She was strong. With the right support, she was even stronger.
Heather Nagengast
Vice President, Wealth Management and Investment Services
Ameritas Life Insurance Corp.

Are you a history maker? Most of us probably think not. But all of us are blazing trails today, whether we realize it or not. Those trails may be hidden, but they are there. Perhaps you’re introducing innovative financial strategies or client experiences to your practice. Possibly through your work, you’ve opened the opportunity for someone to become the first in a family to begin a business. Or the first to leave generational wealth. Some of us are in the spotlight, attaining groundbreaking goals, positions, or awards. And a few will be tomorrow’s true legends -- movers and shakers who shape our industry. They just don’t know it yet.

The women we regard as legends today didn’t know they were destined for greatness. But they opened and smoothed out the roads we travel today. And others will follow on the paths we’re paving. For inspiration on our journey, I’m going to be sharing a few stories of leading women from my company, Ameritas, and in our industry.

Sis on 1934 agency bulletin cover

Sis Hoffman was a brilliant industry star who began shining in the 1920s. A series of significant financial setbacks left Sis in challenging circumstances. Raising two young daughters, she needed flexibility to be at home when needed. And she was determined to give them both a college education. She began looking for a career that could give her both freedom and financial power. Recognizing the financial vulnerability of many women and children of the day, she wanted to make a positive impact protecting their financial well-being. She decided to enter the male-dominated world of life insurance sales.

Few women in the 1920s had the nerve to try this. Our history actually shows a slowly growing number of women entering our sales force in the 1920s and 1930s. Several built solid careers, but Sis Hoffman reached unrivaled heights. Her own passion and perseverance were the clear drivers of her success. But mentorship and support made all the difference. Two forward-thinking men in her office were key.

Colonel John Shuff

Her first mentor was Colonel John L. Shuff. He led the Cincinnati agency for one of our legacy companies, Union Central Life. Sis recalled how timid and lacking in self-confidence she was at first. “It took time, but he finally helped me erase my sense of inferiority and gave me confidence,” Sis told a reporter years later. The next leader of that practice, Judd Benson, was equally encouraging. Like Shuff, Benson was an exemplary leader, challenging Sis to aim for consistently higher goals.
None of it came easily. She went through those tough early years. But one day, the company news stopped folks in their tracks: A woman had qualified for our top sales club for the first time. And yet more surprising, 90 percent of her business was with women!

                                                                                           Sis Hoffman only woman qualifier at 1934 Leaders Conference 1

I just love the photo of Sis at our Leaders Conference that year: Tilted cloche hat on her head. Spectator brogue pumps on her feet. And that look of calm, cool confidence on her face – the only female face among rows of men.

No need to demand respect – she had it, simply leading by example. She not only earned top sales recognition, she continuously earned real credibility from her male peers and company leaders. They listened to her voice.

She was regularly asked to write articles on best sales practices in our agency bulletins. Her hallmark approach was educational, focusing on brevity and simplicity. Relationship building became another signature. Rejecting the idea of call quotas, she spent more time with current clients than she did prospecting. Before long, her sales grew primarily from referrals by women, to women.

It’s worth pondering the fact that Sis continued thriving even through the Great Depression. Whatever headwinds we face, her example of tenacity should inspire us to persevere.

Her dedication led to another major milestone in 1946: She became the first woman to ever achieve Life membership in the MDRT. I love to imagine the sensation she caused when agency managers across the country opened their mailboxes and saw Sis on the cover….and the awesome news of her accomplishment.

The writeup inside the bulletin says a great deal about level of support Sis had. She says, “I’m deeply obligated to everyone in the Benson Agency for their grand help, and to The Union Central,” (legacy company name). Everyone around her gave Sis the mentorship and support she needed. And her own drive never let up. She continued selling her entire life.

Sis Hoffman’s story reminds us all how empowering great mentorship can be. This is why the WIFS mentorship program is so important – and it’s why we made sure it was part of the package with our new Ameritas Scholarship for the Advancement of Women in Financial Services. We’re empowering women to grow in their expertise by acquiring their Wealth Management Certified Professional® (WMCP®) designation from the American College. But we’re making that investment count even more by providing complimentary WIFS membership and mentorship.

We’ve just finalized our first wave of scholarship recipients. It is a diverse group of wonderful women who, like Sis Hoffman, have a passion to make a positive impact on their clients’ lives. I look forward to telling some of their stories in the future…stories of today’s history makers.

Heather Nagengast
Vice President, Wealth Management and Investment Services
Ameritas Life Insurance Corp.




Hawley Woods Gray

April is designated as National Volunteer Month and we thought this would be a great opportunity to talk to one of our members about the importance of volunteerism personally and professionally.
Hawley Woods Gray is managing VP of Appreciation Financial, founder of Women of Wealth (WOW), and education director on the national board of Women in Insurance and Financial Services. She is also a wife, mother, and former Division one volleyball athlete. A constant thread running through Hawley’s many roles is volunteerism and mentorship.
Hawley has been active as a volunteer throughout her life, first through athletics, then as a parent on the volleyball court, and as a professional in the financial services industry. 

She successfully translated the skills she learned through sports into the realm of professional life through business coaching and mentoring. Her time spent volunteering as a coach for young athletes and for women new to the financial services industry has been beneficial to both mentees and budding athletes, as well as reaping benefits for Hawley in her own career.

“I’ve been able to take the traits used and skills learned as an athlete and use them in guiding and mentoring my team at Appreciation Financial.”

Among many other accomplishments, these learned skills precipitated the creation of WOW, as well as a book she co-authored with colleague Carrie Yukich, Push Through, available through Amazon.
“Women have different needs in the workplace than men, while still functioning in a high stress job,” explained Hawley.
The WOW program was created in response to the lack of women at the top at Appreciation Financial. In the five years since she created the program, Hawley has amassed a portfolio of training, mentoring and support tools, which have been used to meet the unique needs of women in the workplace.

As a WIFS mentor, Hawley uses those tools – as well as the many programs and services available to WIFS members – to help women tackle industry challenges, including the lack of diversity and inclusion in many workplaces, and focusing on issues such as setting boundaries, learning when it is more important to say “No,” and ‘pushing through’ the tough stuff to achieve success in the industry.
Why is this important? The answer is in the numbers.

“With more women creating wealth in their lives, they want other women to help them manage it,” says Hawley. She adds that Appreciation Financial services women and men in the field of education, and she reminds us that 91% of those educators are women. By offering women in financial services the tools to be successful and remain in the industry, Hawley and her sister volunteers and mentors help WIFS fulfil its mission to attract, advance and develop women in the workplace, where they can cater to the growing number of female creators of wealth.

Volunteerism also creates opportunities that might not be immediately apparent. Hawley met the CEO and founders of Appreciation Financial while she was volunteering for another organization during an event in Las Vegas. Ten years later, as the managing VP, Hawley continues to volunteer, support and mentor others. She is currently completing her second year as a member of the WIFS National board.
In short, volunteerism can be both personally fulfilling and professionally impactful, for both the volunteer and the recipient. If you are just starting out in your career, or you’ve recently switched careers, now may be a great time to explore the volunteer and mentoring opportunities available. You may be pleasantly surprised by what it does for you, both personally and professionally.

For more information about WIFS’ mentoring program. Or contact the WIFS National office – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. – to learn more.


You may not be familiar with the term “servant leadership,” but, as the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said on a very different topic, you’ll know it when you see it.

Despite its vaguely biblical sound, “servant leadership” was coined a mere half-century ago by Robert K. Greenleaf (1904-1990), who, over a 40-year career at AT&T, became disillusioned with the traditional authoritarian leadership model found in most corporations and institutions.

In 1964 he retired from AT&T and founded the Center for Applied Ethics – now the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership -- to research alternatives, and in 1970 published an essay, “The Servant as Leader,” in which the term “servant leadership” made its debut.

By Quincy Krosby, Ph.D.

Every so often, the famous warning from former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan on Dec. 5, 1996 — “How do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions?” — resurfaces in a much simpler form: The market is forming a bubble similar to 1999.

Back then, it was a period of intense optimism, in which profits didn’t matter; it was a dot-com boom regardless of what came before the dot. It was the “New Paradigm” — until it wasn’t. As the Greenspan Fed began raising rates in 1999 and 2000 — Jan. 1, 1999, the 10-year Treasury was 4.72%; Jan. 1, 2000, the 10-year Treasury was 6.66% — in order to ward off potential inflationary pressures stemming from the strong economy, market strategists continued to stress that the technology sector, for the most part, was immune to higher rates.