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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.