Heritage Insurance
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Management Profiles

Richard A. Widdicombe, CPCU


Mr. Widdicombe is an experienced, results-oriented senior insurance executive with excellent administrative and quantitative skills especially focused on property and casualty management. Mr. Widdicombe has a strong background with growing insurers and has served as President of three Florida Insurance carriers, Federated National Insurance Company, American Vehicle Insurance Company and People's Trust Insurance Company. Most recently, he served as Risk Manager/Reinsurance Purchaser for Homeowners Choice Property and Casualty Insurance Company. Mr. Widdicombe also served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Cypress Property Casualty Insurance Company in Jacksonville, Florida.

Mr. Widdicombe was the Chief Executive Officer of 21st Century Holding Company, Inc., a Florida based, multi-state, NASDAQ-listed insurance organization consisting of two insurers, an insurance agency, a premium finance company and claims processing company. Prior to his service with 21st Century, Mr. Widdicombe was employed by Jardine-MacNeill/ISAC, Miami, Florida in various Management positions. Mr. Widdicombe further served on the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation's Initial Disaster Assessment Team.

Bruce Lucas

Chairman and Chief Investment Officer

Mr. Lucas is the Chairman and Chief Investment Officer of Heritage Insurance. He is a dynamic business leader with a wealth of experience in the legal and financial industries. Bruce co-founded Infinity Investment Funds, a multinational hedge fund, where he served as CEO. During his career, he has been involved in billions of dollars of financial management transactions with many of the top fortune 50 companies.

Bruce also enjoyed a successful legal career, most recently with Weil, Gotshal & Manges, one of the world's top law firms. As an attorney, he represented many of the world's largest corporations in a variety of domestic and international transactions. He has a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from Indiana University-Bloomington, where he graduated cum laude, Order of the Barristers, and was the Sig Beck scholar. He is active in local charities and resides in Palm Harbor, FL with his wife and son.

Stephen Rohde

Chief Financial Officer

Stephen Rohde, Heritage's Chief Financial Officer, has 39 years of experience in the insurance industry. Prior to joining Heritage, Rohde was the CFO of People's Trust Insurance Company, Boca Raton, FL, for four years and the CFO of the Mutual Service Insurance Group(MSI), St. Paul, MN, for 13 years of his 20 year employment at MSI. Rohde started his career at IDS Financial Services, Minneapolis, MN, in 1973. Mr. Rohde has also served as an outside director and Audit Committee Chairman of Direct General Corporation, Nashville, TN and Lion Insurance Company, Holiday, FL. Mr. Rohde received his Bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Mel Russell

Executive VP, Chief Underwriting Officer, and Director of Sales

Mel has 36 years' experience in the property and casualty business, and has been in the Florida insurance market since 1989. He began his career in Boston as a Senior Commercial Lines Underwriter with Fireman's Fund Insurance Company. He spent his first 12 years in the New England market, initially with Fireman's Fund and subsequently with General Accident Insurance Company. He moved to the General Accident branch office in Orlando in 1989, where he ran the personal and commercial underwriting, loss control, and premium audit departments. In 1999 Mel was a founding employee at United Property & Casualty Insurance Company (UPC Insurance), where he served as Chief Underwriting Officer, Corporate Secretary, head of Marketing, and eventually as President. Mel holds the Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) designation. Mel has a B.A. in English Literature from Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. He is married with four sons and three grandchildren.

Joseph R. Peiso, CPA, CPCU, ARe


Mr. Peiso brings a wealth of insurance experience as former CFO of Sunz Insurance Holdings, LLC., CFO of United Insurance Holdings and senior manager of Dixon Odom PLLC in North Carolina. Joe began his professional career with Coopers & Lybrand, CPA after graduating from the University of Florida. Soon he went to work in the industry with American Bankers Insurance Company in Miami, Florida and later as Vice President of Finance for Transportation Casualty Insurance Company of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Mr. Peiso obtained his CPA early in career and has owned and operated his own company, in addition to roles at various companies in Florida and North Carolina. Joe was the Chief Financial Examiner for the North Carolina Department of Insurance where he managed a team of 20 accounting professionals scheduling and conducting statutory financial examinations of carriers with interests in North Carolina. Additionally, Mr. Peiso has regulatory experience assisting Special Deputy Supervisor in three cases working with the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, and he recently earned his ARM designation.


Kent Linder

Chief Operating Officer

After serving in the United States Marine Corps Reserves and graduating from the University of South Florida, Kent had a successful 13 year career in management with United Parcel Service. Kent began his insurance career in 1993 by opening his first retail agency in Orlando, Florida. He grew his company to 23 insurance agencies in seven Florida counties, employing over 90 insurance professionals. Kent developed innovative insurance products and introduced tax preparation services utilizing electronic filing.

Kent sold his agencies in 1998 to 21st Century Holding Company (NASDAQ: FNHC) and became President of Federated Agency Group. He grew the agency business to 38 retail locations and rebranded it into FedUSA and directed the sale of the franchises, providing additional revenues to the parent company. Named Chief Operating Officer of 21st Century Holding Company in 2002, Kent was responsible for all operations including two Florida domiciled property and casualty insurance companies, taking the organization into several states and working to develop a successful Florida property program.


Ernie J. Garateix, CPCU

Executive Vice President

Mr. Garateix's well-rounded insurance career includes claims, underwriting, operations, systems analyst, and Vice President of Operations. After graduating from Florida State, Ernie joined USF&G in the claim department, later promoted to managing call center operation. Mr. Garateix worked with USF&G from 1993- 2000, obtained his MBA from University of Tampa in Management Information Technology and immediately began work as AVP of Information Technology at FCCI in Sarasota, Florida (2000-2007). He managed a team of developers and oversaw a number of software implementations and assisted in numerous multi-state projects. Ernie has spent the past five years as Vice President of Operations at American Integrity Insurance Group responsible for all backroom operations of the carrier. Additionally, he co-ordinates all rates and form implementations and worked with CEO on special projects. Mr. Garateix managed the Citizens assumption process from all sides, agent, claims and consumer. Ernie also developed a management information tool for internal users to the streamline reporting process.


Paul G. Neilson

Vice President of Claim Operations

Paul began his insurance career after graduating from Western Michigan University, spending 16 years with Aetna Life & Casualty, serving in positions of increasing responsibility in Michigan, California and Florida. From 1996 through 2010, Paul led the property claim department for Travelers of Florida where he was responsible for directing the personal and commercial lines property operations, auto/property physical damage quality assurance programs, and catastrophe planning & response.

Paul served as the Director of Claims Management for Homeowners Choice Property & Casualty Insurance Company. In that capacity, he led the liability and litigation teams, defined claim legal strategies, managed personnel and financial resources, and assisted in the development of the corporate catastrophe response plan.

Prior to joining Heritage, Paul was the Claims Quality Assurance Manager for Citizens Property Insurance Corporation where his department conducted claim file audits and field reinspections. He was responsible for providing time-sensitive data analysis and trending to the business units as well as reporting actionable feedback with recommendations for process improvements.

Paul serves on the Florida Division of Emergency Management's Insurance Damage Assessment Team, is a member and past presenter of the Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention, Property Loss Research Bureau and the Windstorm Conference. Mr. Neilson is a voting member of the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, Property & Casualty Fraud Task Force.


Timothy Paddock, FCAS, MAAA

Chief Actuary

Tim has over 30 years of property and casualty insurance experience with an emphasis on the actuarial discipline including ratemaking, reserve analysis and reinsurance placement for personal and commercial lines of business.  He began his career with Hanover Insurance and moved progressively to management/officer positions at ING-North America and Western Reserve Group where he was Vice President and Chief Actuary.  He has been engaged in the Florida and Southeast insurance markets since 2009 with HomeWise Insurance, and most recently with Bankers Insurance Group.  Tim has received the designation of Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society and is a member of the American Academy of Actuaries.  He received his BS degree in Mathematics from the University of Lowell (Massachusetts).  Tim and his wife reside in Pasco County, Florida, and have two grown children.


Shannon Cloonen

Director of Risk Management

Shannon has over 11 years of experience in the property and casualty insurance space. During this time she has held increasingly responsible positions with several Florida insurers, including Tower Hill Insurance Group, Florida Farm Bureau Insurance Company and United Property & Casualty Insurance Company. Mrs. Cloonan is responsible for a variety of aspects of the Company’s risk management function, ranging from reinsurance planning and catastrophe modeling to analytics and ERM. Shannon has a B.S. in Finance from the University of Florida and a Masters of Business Administration from the Hough Graduate School of Business, University of Florida. She also holds the CPCU, ARe, ARM, ARC, AIM and AIS designations. Shannon is married with two children.


Rachael Waguespack

Underwriting Manager

Rachael Waguespack has over 30 years of experience in the Insurance Industry, with the past 20 years in Florida. Rachael has worked in both captive and independent agencies at the CSR and Agent level. Rachael began her insurance career in Louisiana working as a CSR for a State Farm Agent in 1981. She worked as a captive agent for Aetna Casualty & Surety from 1988 until 1990, when they moved their branch office to Florida. She then worked as an Agent in an Independent Agency until 1992, when Aetna lured her to Florida to become an Underwriter. Rachael worked as an Underwriter for Aetna and following the sale of their Property & Casualty business to Travelers, she continued to work for Travelers/First Floridian as an Underwriter and Project Underwriter.

Rachael has also worked in claims and was a Claim Representative and Team Lead with Travelers/First Floridian from 2000 through 2003. She was as an Independent Adjuster for Cunningham Lindsay from 2003 through 2006. Her claims experience has given Rachael an appreciation of how important it is to properly insure risks in order to adequately protect the insured and have a profitable, stable book of business for the agency and company.

Rachael returned to underwriting in 2006 as an Underwriting Supervisor, working for CGI in a Third party environment. She was hired by a former client, Universal North America in 2010 as an Underwriting Manager. Rachael has managed a department of Underwriters in several locations handling multiple states. Many of you will recognize her name from having worked with her in the Florida market during the past twenty years.

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