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Serial entrepreneur steps down as CEO at Clearwater insurer

Margie Manning



Bruce Lucas, CEO, Heritage Insurance, during a 2017 interview with CNBC

Serial entrepreneur Bruce Lucas built Heritage Insurance Holdings from a startup into one of the top homeowners insurance companies in the U.S.

Now, he wants to try his hand at creating something else new.

Lucas, co-founder, chairman and CEO at Heritage (NYSE: HRTG), said he will retire effective Nov. 30.

“I’m a serial entrepreneur and love the challenge of creating new companies from the ground up. I have started several companies over the years with Heritage being my most successful venture to-date. It was important to me to stay with the company until the business plan I developed was fully implemented,” Lucas said during a conference call with analysts Tuesday. “Since inception, we grew from a single-state homeowners insurer in Florida to a top 20 homeowner writer in the United States that’s actively writing in 15 states with over $1 billion in force premium.”

His successor as CEO will be Ernie Garateix, who currently is chief operating officer at Heritage.

Richard Widdicombe, who co-founded Heritage with Lucas, will continue to serve as president and also become chairman of the board of directors.

Lucas will remain with the company as an executive consultant through 2021.

Closer look: Q3 earnings

Lucas announced his retirement at the same time Heritage posted financial results for the third quarter of 2020. The company had a net loss of $5.2 million, or 19 cents a share, on total revenue of $165.1 million for the three months ended Sept. 30. The loss primarily was due to “an unprecedented level of weather losses” in Q3, Lucas said.

Lucas, who was 48 years old when the company issued its proxy earlier this year, is an attorney who, earlier in his career, represented large institutional clients such as Enron and GE while at Weil Gotschal & Manges. Before co-founding Heritage, he was CEO of a hedge fund, Infinity Investment Funds.

Richard Widdicombe, president, Heritage Insurance

Lucas and Widdicombe launched Heritage in 2012. A year later Heritage bought a two-building, 13-acre property in Clearwater for $9.8 million, a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said.  The company established operating headquarters on the site in March 2014 and went public later that year.

In 2014, its first year as a public company, Heritage posted $234 million in revenue. For the year ended Dec. 31, 2019, Heritage had $511.3 million in revenue.

“We have developed an impressive double-digit organic growth engine including a vast independent agency network and multiple national partnerships with some of the top insurance companies in the U.S.,” Lucas said during the conference call. “We’ve been profitable every full year of our existence even during the toughest periods of the assignment of benefits crisis in Florida and through extremely active storm years, which is the exception among our peers.”

He said he’s proud of the operating results, and trusts Garateix’ judgment and ability to execute a successful business plan.

Ernie Garateix, chief operating officer, Heritage Insurance

Garateix, who has been with Heritage since the company started, is an insurance industry veteran who previously was a vice president at American Integrity insurance Group in Tampa. In addition to being named CEO, Garateix will join the Heritage board on Nov. 30.

The company has not yet announced compensation for Garateix, Widdicombe or Lucas in their new roles.

In 2019, Lucas had total compensation of $6.07 million, Widdicombe’s total compensation was $2.69 million, and Garateix’ pay package was $1.4 million.

Heritage is the second local homeowners insurance company to see leadership changes this year. United Insurance Holdings (Nasdaq: UICH), a St. Petersburg-based property and casualty insurer that does business as UPC Insurance, has a new chairman and CEO, Dan Peed, who took on those roles after former CEO John Forney left the company.

Heritage also is preparing for a headquarters move.  The Clearwater headquarters site is currently owned by a Heritage subsidiary, Skye Lane Properties. Last month, Heritage said it would relocate its corporate headquarters to Tampa, and would lease an 88,643-square-foot building at 1401 N. Westshore Blvd. in the Westshore Business District office park.

“We have outgrown our current location and selected Westshore City Center due to its central location in the heart of Tampa Bay,” Lucas said in an Oct. 6 news release from Franklin Street, which is overseeing leasing and management for the property.

Heritage Insurance will relocate its corporate headquarters to Tampa’s Westshore City Center. From left: Andrew Wright, Franklin Street; Bruce Lucas, Heritage Insurance; Mayor Jane Castor, City of Tampa; Ernie Garateix, Heritage Insurance; Ann Kulig, Westshore Alliance

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