A father/daughter team of insurance professionals recently were awarded two of the highest honors bestowed upon independent agents in Texas at the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas annual conference and trade show in San Antonio.
Kelly Surles Lyttle was named IIAT’s Customer Service Representative (CSR) of the Year and her father, David Surles, was honored with the association’s Drex Foreman Award.
Drex Foreman Award
IIAT’s Drex Foreman Award is the association’s highest honor and is named for Drex Foreman, who served IIAT as chief executive director for more than 30 years.
Surles, who has been in the insurance business for nearly five decades, began his career as a personal lines manager for Republic Insurance. He joined the independent agency system in 1975, but according to IIAT, he found his real calling when he joined the association in 1989 as an advisor on insurance and regulatory issues.
That calling? “To help insurance agents understand what they are selling and why they are selling it,” Patrick Watkins, president of Watkins Insurance Group in Austin and former IIAT president, said in announcing the award.
During his tenure at IIAT, Surles wrote hundreds of news articles to keep agents informed of changes and remind them of important technical issues. And as director of technical services for IIAT, he developed InfoCentral, a comprehensive body of insurance technical information. In 1996, Surles became IIAT’s director of professional liability, and he and his staff became known nationally for their expertise in E&O loss control and coverage issues.
“David is probably responsible for the payment of more insurance claims over the years than anyone in the business,” Watkins said. “Claims adjusters couldn’t argue with his logic and experienced adjusters often deferred to his judgment about policy language.”
Surles retired from IIAT at the end of 2011, but still contributes to the Texas Agent newsletter and InfoCentral, and works as a consultant.
In accepting the award, a visibly surprised Surles commented that he had been tricked.
“I came here to watch Kelly get an award and here I am,” Surles said. “As I look at the list of previous winners I’m overawed and really appreciative. It’s been a pleasure and joy to serve IIAT and its members.”
Surles added that he looks forward to continuing to write and meet with people in the insurance industry.
“Thank you so much, it’s a great honor,” he said.
CSR of the Year
With the CSR award, IIAT annually honors a customer service representative in Texas who exemplifies outstanding leadership and service to the independent agency system and to the public.
By her own account, Lyttle, a personal insurance advisor at Watkins Insurance Group in Austin, was destined at birth to become an insurance professional.
“When I tell people I’ve grown up in this business, I’m not sure they understand the extent of that statement,” Lyttle said when accepting the award. “I sometimes feel like I was born to be an independent agent. My parents met while working at Republic Insurance. … I actually attended my first IIAT convention in 1989. Johnny Dee and the Rocket 88s were the band playing and Lee Loftis was young agent of the year.”
Lyttle officially began her insurance career in 1999 as a billing and policy processor, and then became a personal lines account manager at a large Austin agency. In 2011 she joined Watkins Insurance Group in Austin where she manages a designated book of business of personal lines clients.
Lyttle serves on IIAT’s Account Manager Advisory Committee and is a board member of IIA Austin where she is also director of that organization’s young insurance professionals committee. She has served as an insurance expert for Austin’s KEYE TV Knowledge Network news segment and developed a presentation for teens called “Teens and Insurance: What Every Teen Should Know About Auto Insurance,” which explains the basics of auto insurance and how teens’ driving habits can affect their insurance rates.
In accepting the award, Lyttle thanked her husband, her employers, her mentors, IIAT and her family for their support and encouragement in her professional efforts.
And with a smile, Lyttle thanked her dad, David, “for this insurance brain you gave me. You’ve shown me the joy in reading an insurance contract and how to love a good claims scenario.”
In addition to the award, Lyttle received $1,500 from Myron Steves and the chance to win the competition at the national level.