Women in Business

Building a legacy: Sheppard Insurance is a mother-daughter, all-woman affair

wib sheppardWhen Kathy Sheppard got her start in the insurance world 30 years ago, she was a pioneer in a male-dominated profession.

Some clients were taken aback — and even made snide remarks — when a woman showed up as their claim adjuster following a lightning strike or tree falling on their house.

But Sheppard was good at it and proved her mettle, enough so to join the elite network of catastrophe claim adjusters for the national insurance firm, Maryland Casualty.

When her daughter was a toddler, she found herself flying around the country to hurricanes, hail storms, crop freezes and even the San Francisco earthquake.

“They had a pool of storm troopers as they called them,” said Sheppard, who was once again in the minority as a woman.

That’s not true anymore, however. Today, Sheppard owns her own insurance firm, Sheppard Insurance of Clyde, and all her employees and agents are women.

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“I am surrounded by very smart women, and it doesn’t take long for people to realize we know what we are talking about,” Sheppard said. “Our business comes from good old-fashioned relationship building and referrals. We know our community, we personally know our clients. When someone comes here we don’t know, we get to know them.”

Sheppard’s transition from insurance agent to business owner came early in her career and rather out of the blue. She was approached by Roy Brock, owner of what was then Brock Insurance, with an offer to sell the firm to her.

“It is one of those opportunities that presents itself and you either step out on faith and take a big risk and do it or you don’t,” Sheppard said. “He had seen what I was already accomplishing in the insurance business and it opened a big old door that I took the chance to walk through.”

While Sheppard knew insurance, that was only half the battle when it came to owning her own insurance company. 

“You empty the trash cans and make the coffee and decide when it is time to paint the building,” Sheppard said. “That’s what it is for any small business owner — you don’t have an IT person so I am the one in the floor hooking up the new computer.”

Sheppard Insurance is a rarity. There aren’t many woman-owned insurance firms, but with Sheppard’s daughter, Sara Sheppard Pacifici, now part of the business, it’s likely to remain that way for another generation.

Sheppard never suspected her only child would join the business one day. Pacifici was working in Raleigh after college in the political arena, but she had slow periods when the legislature was on break. 

“I said ‘Why don’t you take a week off and get licensed in insurance just to have something to fall back on?’” Sheppard recalled. “A few years later she said ‘I think I want to come back to the mountains and give insurance a try.’”

Pacifici, who lives in Asheville, is helping to grow the business in a new direction. They have opened a second office in downtown Asheville, where Pacifici has been particularly successful in writing policies for the burgeoning entrepreneur scene in Asheville.

“It’s not something you can call an 800-number for,” Sheppard said. “We try to be problem solvers for people and customers appreciate our counsel and advice.”

But Pacifici’s first contribution to the company was convincing her mom to change the name of the firm. Sheppard was still operating as Brock Insurance, even though she’d been the owner for more than two decades.

“Sara joined the business and said, ‘Mom, it’s time,’” Sheppard laughed.

Sheppard is the fourth owner of the business, which dates back to the late 1800s. Each time the insurance firm sold, it was renamed by the new owner, who kept it for several decades before retiring and once more selling it.

The stage is already set to continue the firm's legacy well into the 21st century with Pacifici now leading its expansion in Asheville.

“The most important lesson I learned from my mom is that women can do anything and also have a family. She ran a very successful business and was also involved in the community, yet she never missed a moment of my childhood,” said Pacifici. “She instilled in me an entrepreneurial spirit that I am so grateful for.”

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