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Lisa Copeland Strickland cites roots - Odessa American: Business

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Lisa Copeland Strickland cites roots

Insurancewoman says strict granddad stepped in after her father died young

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Posted: Sunday, September 25, 2016 5:30 am

Lisa Copeland Strickland knew she’d be an insurancewoman before she knew anything about the business.

Fifteen years old and attending Sherwood Christian Academy, she saw prominent insuranceman Houston Copeland in a TV ad and went to see him about a job. “Houston said, ‘Come back when you grow up, and I did,” she said.

Beginning at the most basic level, Strickland went to work for Copeland at 19, ended up marrying him in 2001 and now is the sole proprietor of the agency that represents Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. at offices here and in Midland and San Angelo, where 50,000 policy holders pay $40 million in annual premiums.

Born Melisa Jane Pipkin, Strickland had few advantages after her dad Billy Jack, a welder who had diabetes, died when she was 8 and left her and her sister Charlene Hughes and mother LaWanda without insurance. “Mom worked as a cook at Permian High School,” she said.

“I watched her struggle, and that was a good basis of who I am today. I knew at a young age that I wanted to make something out of myself. Losing our father at such a young age, my sister is the same way. She’s my bookkeeper.”

The 48-year-old Sulphur Springs native credits her late granddad, Hube Eppers, who owned a dairy farm at Sulphur Bluff in Northeast Texas, for her work ethic. “Daddy Hube was old school,” said Strickland.

“If we cried, we got in trouble. We got up early, milked cows and did chores. He was extremely tough, but I don’t think I would be who I am without him. I have nothing but admiration for him. I think we need more discipline in our children’s lives today.”

Noting that she was Copeland’s third wife after his first wife died and his second marriage ended in divorce, Strickland said Copeland retired in 2000 and severed his State Farm affiliation so she could assume control after his death. Copeland died in 2011 at age 81.

Strickland has three children and three grandchildren from a previous marriage. She married Concho Welding Inspection Co. owner James “Bo” Strickland of San Angelo six years ago. They own a 120-acre ranch, the Lazy LB, near Christoval.

“When we went with Nationwide in 2003, we only had four or five employees,” she said. “Now we have 44 agents, including four in Midland and five in San Angelo, and this year we won the Nationwide President’s Club Award for being at the top of the company.

“Houston had been the largest State Farm agent in the country, and it seemed like we would have no way to build up to that level. But we have gotten there, and I wish he was here to see it.”

Noting that Copeland helped a number of local insurance agents, Strickland asked, “What didn’t I learn from Houston?

“I would not be here today if not for Houston.”

She said 60 percent of her business is for motor vehicle insurance and 40 percent for home coverage with life insurance being a minor factor. Key personnel include Administrator Areli Dutchover, Sales Manager Brandi Marquez and outside saleswomen Mary McCourt, Liz Springer and Selina Poe.

“I love coming to work each day,” Strickland said. “I’m a list queen. I’m always looking for ways, if somebody’s policy went up, to bring it down.”

Conceding that her business can be stressful, she said, “If a customer is upset, we try to find a way to calm that customer down and find a solution.

“Bo and I have five horses at the ranch. It’s relaxing to get on them, but I like looking at them and feeding them more than anything.”

Strickland said she hires people “who do not have to be micromanaged” but show strong work ethics with an emphasis on ethics and morality after passing Texas Department of Insurance “P&C” (property and casualty) and “L&H” (life and health) tests.

Gesturing at “the floor” of agents in her spacious, well-appointed home office at 2240 E. 52nd St., Strickland said, “These girls work hard, and I know exactly what they feel, working their way from the ground up, because I have been in their shoes.”

She said she and Copeland began an aggressive marketing campaign, advertising on radio, TV, newspapers, billboards and other media in the early 2000s, to make the transition from State Farm to Nationwide. “I love the marketing part of it,” Strickland said.

“That’s my part. We also sponsor all the high schools, junior highs, cheerleaders and little teams with jerseys and other things. I owe everything to God. We’re here just for a short period of time, and I thank God every day for what we have. My prayer is, “Thank you, God, for allowing me to eat, sleep under this roof and have my family and health.”

Former Lamar Advertising General Manager Guy V. Speck of Midland got to know Strickland well while handling her billboard advertising. “Houston was her mentor in dealing with people, knowing what to ask and how to get the job done, but she also has her own style about doing things,” Speck said.

“Lisa is not a rough person, she is a soft person; but when tough decisions have to be made, she can step up and make those calls. Quite frankly, she is a delight to be around.

“She does a good job of identifying who her potential customers are. She buys packages for the NFL games on TV, knowing that a lot of her customers will be watching those games. Lisa is carrying the flag for Odessa, and it’s one more thing the community ought to be proud of.”

Love’s Auto Sales owner Judy Love said Strickland started the campaign, featuring orange thumb bands, to discourage texting while driving. “She is not going to forget where she came from and where she is now,” Love said.

“She’s going to come on up and ask, ‘Hey, girl, what are you doing?’ Lisa is a hard worker like myself, very inventive, because we have heard people say, ‘Well, women can’t do this and can’t do that in business.’ She finds out what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. If you carry insurance with her, you feel at home when you walk in. They wish you happy birthday, and you know darn well they’re taking care of you.

“It threw Lisa for a loop when Houston died. It put her in the hospital, and we worried that she wasn’t going to make it. It wasn’t the business, it was caring about him. She was much younger than him, but so what? She loved him. She is just a regular old person like me. I will die behind my desk, and she probably will, too.”

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