Celebrating Women’s History Month: Meet Eppy Hairston, NSM’s 2022 Crystal Award Winner

Eppy Hairston headshot

At NSM, our team inspires us to achieve great things, work hard and build success. 

This Women’s History Month, we’re sharing a special story about one of our leaders who never ceases to amaze us with her talent, tenacity and ability to make positive impacts on our organization. We can all learn something from Eppy Hairston, Director of Operations & Technology. Since the moment she joined NSM in 2019, Eppy has established a reputation for excellence and spearheaded several key initiatives. 

For these reasons and many more, Eppy was recently announced our 2022 Crystal Award winner. This recognition, which started back in 1999, honors NSM team members who exhibit outstanding leadership and organizational impact. 

We sat down with Eppy to learn more about her career growth and keys to success. 

Can you share with us what brought you to the insurance industry?

Right out of school, I knew I wanted to pursue a career that would have longevity. I always heard people say “Insurance is never going away.” I also had a few relatives who were in the industry, which had an impact on my decision. Thirty-six years later, I’ve never left the industry. 

What I really wanted was a career. People can find that in insurance. Thirty of my 36 years have been focused on insurance operations. I have a real knack to problem solve, both personally and professionally. There are always new problems that need solutioning — this keeps me very engaged and interested. 

As our Director of Operations & Technology at NSM, you lead a large team and oversee critical company projects. Tell us, what motivates you to keep showing up and giving your all each and every day? What does “build success” mean to you?

What really keeps me motivated is seeing the satisfaction of the end user, whether it’s an insured, agent or a colleague. I love resolving issues and making their lives easier, finding ways to increase revenue and making things more efficient. I’m constantly looking for feedback — but certainly not for praise. I have a deep interest in learning and improving. How can we make it better? I spend a lot of time on the ground level with my team to walk in their shoes and feel their pain. This creates a better understanding for me and direct connection to my team instead of just me hypothesizing. 

I owe a lot of this work ethic and what I do at NSM to a start-up I co-founded and where I also served as VP of Operations. At one point, we were starting from scratch. I developed all standard operating procedures and instituted processes that enabled the company to function well. I treat each program at NSM as its own company. Each program has its unique focus and challenges. As such, our operations and technology must be very proprietary. 

When I hear “build success,” I think how our department facilitates the growth of our programs. When a program is growing, attracting more agents and growing their bottom line — that’s how I see we’re helping them to build success. On a more personal level, I think of my team. Sometimes, I take a step back and think how wonderful it is we don’t have talent turnover. Some team members I worked with in past roles and some I met for the first time in this position. As a leader, I like to lead by example. I treat my team members as humans. They know that and they feel that. I really connect with my team. They know they’re not dealing with someone who just wants to see “the numbers” but actually cares about them as individuals.  

What are some of operations and technology trends facing our industry today?

Without a doubt, digitization. The approach of sending a paper application and waiting for pricing to come back is slowly phasing out. Today, it’s all about immediate responses. This also relates to the “point and click” approach many of us have grown accustomed to as consumers. Insurance is now feeling this pressure. The only way to increase speed to market is removing manual processes. This is very difficult to do especially when it’s been the process for decades and decades. This is where we’re headed. 

You were recently announced as our 2022 Crystal Award winner. Congratulations! What does this recognition symbolize for you and how would you describe the feeling of receiving this honor?

Just before the honoree was announced, Geof and Bill were describing the person and I thought, “Wow! I have some competition!”

Hard work pays off and being acknowledged for it really means a lot. I felt honored, humbled — and surprised! I certainly don’t do what I do every day for that recognition, but wow did it feel good. I look forward to celebrating this honor at the awards dinner this summer with my three biggest supporters — my children. 

“What I really wanted was a career. People can find that in insurance.”

2022 Crystal Award winner - Eppy with Geof and Bill McKernan

In honor of Women’s History Month, what is your advice to other women looking to build and enhance their careers? 

In general, and not just specific to the insurance industry, there are a lot of obstacles for women in leadership. More often than not, we are our biggest obstacle. Let’s get out of our own way. We as women must remember: We’ve got this! We can lead and contribute just like men.

Especially for young professionals, just show up. Put in the time and don’t shy away from hard work and asking questions. It will all lead to growth. Understand what industry you’re servicing and how you can contribute. Align yourself with a role model or mentor. Learn as much as you can, work hard and deliver.

“We as women must remember: We’ve got this!”

-Eppy Hairston