BlueCross leader named to Women of Influence list

Dec. 30, 2021

Stephanie DeFreese accepting award Hover image

A Columbia business publication has recognized a BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina leader for her extensive community involvement and professional leadership.

Stephanie DeFreese, vice president of agency sales, is one of 22 honorees named to Columbia Regional Business Report’s 2021 Women of Influence list. “It’s such an honor,” DeFreese said. “I’m humbled, and I thank whoever nominated me.” 

DeFreese has been with BlueCross for 10 years. The company hired her to set up its direct-to-consumer outreach. It was a new effort for BlueCross, which had primarily dealt in business-to-business sales before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) created the Marketplace for direct sales of insurance plans. 

DeFreese was up to the task, bringing a rich background in retail sales at companies like Springs Global. She set up three South Carolina BLUESM Retail Centers and two recreational vehicles that serve as mobile retail centers. Not only do the stores help people buy insurance, but prior to COVID-19, they also hosted new member orientations, cooking classes and workout programs. Perhaps most importantly, the facilities provide health insurance education to help people choose the right plan. That’s one of the most fulfilling parts of her job, DeFreese said.

“With individual ACA plans, most of the time, the people who buy our products have not had coverage before,” she said. “It’s really helping South Carolinians get health care coverage they need. We are making an impact in people’s lives.”

The retail stores closed during the pandemic and are now open by appointment only. Classes and programming will resume once it’s safe to do so.

Six years ago, DeFreese moved into her current role as head of agency sales. She’s now in charge of the external sales distribution channel for small group product, individual product and Medicare Supplement plan sales from more than 4,500 external agent relationships. She is also responsible for sales compliance and training and supervises an internal staff of 30. 

“I’m very passionate about what I do,” DeFreese said. “I love our company, and I love the areas that I’ve worked in. I’ve enjoyed everyone I’ve worked with.” 

Working at BlueCross is something of a family tradition. DeFreese’s father, Robert Leichtle, started out as an auditor and served as the company’s chief financial officer up until his retirement. BlueCross was a part of DeFreese’s childhood. She recalls visiting Santa on the top floor of the Tower building and attending company picnics at Sesquicentennial State Park.

When she’s not working, you’ll likely find DeFreese volunteering in the community. She says it’s always been a great opportunity to give back while spending meaningful time with her five children.

DeFreese serves on multiple boards and volunteers for many groups, including the EdVenture Children’s Museum, United Way of the Midlands, Leadership South Carolina, the Junior League of Columbia and the American Heart Association Midlands. Most recently, she joined the Greenville Chamber of Commerce board of directors. 

“There’s nothing better in life than to give and to have the feeling that you’ve made an impact,” DeFreese said. “I think it’s something that was always ingrained in me: We’re here to give back.”

She’s grateful to work for a company that, like her, believes in community service. “BlueCross is a phenomenal employer. They make it very easy for us to get involved as employees,” DeFreese said.

She also appreciates BlueCross’ focus on employee growth and professional development. “I’ve always felt they are very supportive of leadership programs and advancing your career. They want everyone to do better and continue to grow.” 

BlueCross is particularly supportive of women, she added. “There are lots of women in leadership roles in our company. BlueCross supports the programs to help you get there.” The Private Business division offers several leadership development programs, such as the Aspiring Leaders program for front-line staff, the Supervisory Development Program and Management Coaching for Directors. November marked the completion of the latest nine-month Management Acceleration Program, which graduated an all-female class for the first time. 

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