Management Profiles

Heritage Insurance is led by an experienced senior management team committed to providing the highest quality property insurance in Florida.  With over 500 years of combined experience in the Florida homeowners insurance market, the leadership team works together to maintain the highest standards of customer service while being active members of the Florida community.

Bruce Lucas – Chairman & CEO

While known for his leadership and entrepreneurial skills, Mr. Lucas brings creativity and out-of-the-box thinking into making Heritage a best of breed company that is not only profitable but is built for the long term.  Prior to Heritage, Mr. Lucas was CEO of Infinity Investment Funds and an attorney with Weil, Gotshal & Manges where he represented large institutional clients such as Enron and GE.  Mr. Lucas graduated cum laude from Indiana University Law School with a B.A. and J.D., and was a Sigmund J. Beck Scholar.  Mr. Lucas is most passionate about education based charities like the Pinellas Education Foundation and Step Up for Students as he feels education provided him with the opportunity to succeed and has been a major key to his success.  He currently serves as a Board Member with the Pinellas Education Foundation. Outside of the office, Mr. Lucas enjoys exercising, golf, and travel.

Richard Widdicombe – President

Mr. Widdicombe is an experienced property and casualty executive with years of leadership experience at the highest levels. Prior to joining Heritage as President in 2012, he previously served as President of three Florida Insurance carriers: Federated National Insurance Company, American Vehicle Insurance Company, and People’s Trust Insurance Company.

Mr. Widdicombe was employed by Jardine MacNeill/Insurance Servicing and Adjusting Company (ISAC) in Miami, Florida in various management positions before joining 21st Century Holding Company, Inc., a Florida based insurance organization, as President/Director in 1999.  He served as President of American Vehicle Insurance Company in August 2001 before assuming the role of CEO of Federated National Holding Company. He also served as Executive Vice President, Director and Chief Operating Officer for Cypress Property Casualty Insurance Company in Jacksonville, Florida before helping found and serve as President/Director of People’s Trust Insurance Company. More recently, he  served as Risk Manager of Homeowners Choice Property & Casualty Insurance Company from November 2009 to September 2011  Mr. Widdicombe further served on the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation’s Initial Disaster Assessment Team.

He has been active in youth soccer and baseball, as well as Big Brothers/ Big Sisters program.

In his role as President, Mr. Widdicombe assures that the company’s mission and programs are communicated with a strong positive image to various stakeholders. He also ensures the annual operating plan supports the strategic direction set by the board and correlates with annual operating budgets.  He enjoys monitoring and anticipating trends within the insurance industry. He holds an adjusters license as well as the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU®) designation.

Steve Rohde – Chief Financial Officer, Treasurer and Secretary

Mr. Rohde joined Heritage Insurance in August of 2012 bringing over 40 years of experience in the insurance industry with him. Prior to joining Heritage, he served as Chief Financial Officer of People’s Trust Insurance Company, a mid-size Florida homeowners company.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree, Mr. Rohde began his career at IDS Financial Services in Minneapolis, MN. During the 10 years he spent with IDS, he held several accounting positions including his final role as Assistant Controller. Mr. Rohde spent the next 20 years at MSI Insurance; his last 13 years he served as their Chief Financial Officer. When several interesting opportunities arose, Mr. Rohde left Minnesota, eventually moving to Florida where he spent 4 years as CFO of People’s Trust Insurance Company before joining Heritage Insurance.

Mr. Rohde finds great satisfaction in identifying trends, issues, and problems while they are small and more easily resolved. He enjoys the work he’s doing to help create a profitable business model at Heritage. In his personal life, he enjoys traveling and spending time with his family at their cabin in Wisconsin.

Mel Russell – Chief Underwriting Officer, Executive Vice President, Director of Sales & Marketing

Mr. Russell’s entire insurance career has been dedicated to the dual disciplines of Underwriting and Marketing/Sales. He sees these two important areas as inextricably linked and mutually dependent. He has a high interest in seeing Heritage Insurance succeed both in profitability and in growth, and believes these areas need to work in tandem for this to be achieved.

Mr. Russell grew up in Maine and went to college in Massachusetts, where he obtained a BA in English Literature from Gordon College in Wenham. After graduation, Mr. Russell spent his first 12 years in the New England market, initially with Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company and subsequently with General Accident Insurance Company. Mr. Russell moved to the General Accident branch office in Orlando in 1989, where he ran the Personal Lines Underwriting, Commercial Lines Underwriting, Loss Control, and Premium Audit Departments. In 1999 Mr. Russell was a founding employee at United Property & Casualty Insurance Company (UPC Insurance), where he served in a number of capacities: Chief Underwriting Officer, Corporate Secretary, head of Marketing, Senior Vice President, Executive Vice President, and President. Mr. Russell came to Heritage Insurance Company in 2013 as Chief Underwriting Officer, Executive Vice President, and Director of Sales & Marketing. Most of his time in the industry since 1986 has been spent in management; additionally, in his career he gained valuable experience doing production underwriting of mid-market and large complex commercial accounts in both Florida and New England.

Mr. Russell is a strong advocate for continuing education in the insurance field and currently serves as Chairperson of the FAIA (Florida Association of Insurance Agents) National Alliance Education Committee. He is also a member of The National Alliance’s National Board of Governors of CISR (Certified Insurance Service Representatives) and has earned the CIC (Certified Insurance Counselor) designation. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees and Secretary of the Florida Counseling Foundation in Casselberry, FL.

Ernie Garateix – Chief Operating Officer

Mr. Garateix has served as Chief Operating Officer of Heritage Property & Casualty since December 2014, and Executive Vice President since August 2012. With his long career in the insurance industry, he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to Heritage in many areas including claims, underwriting, operations, systems analysis, and operations.

Mr. Garateix began his career at United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company (USF&G) where he held a variety of positions in the claims department and managed the call center operation. He obtained his Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the University of Tampa in Management Information Technology, and immediately assumed the role of Associate Vice President of Information Technology at FCCI Insurance Group in Sarasota, Florida from 2000-2007. At FCCI he managed a team of developers, oversaw a number of software implementations, and assisted in numerous, multi-state projects. Prior to joining Heritage, Mr. Garateix spent five years as Vice President of Operations at American Integrity Insurance Group responsible for all backroom operations of the carrier. He holds the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU®) designation.

Randy Jones – President of Commercial Division

Randy Jones has served as our President of Commercial Division since February 3, 2014. He has over 25 years of executive experience in a variety of insurance industry positions, primarily focusing on commercial lines services, with progressively responsible leadership experience which lead him to becoming the Senior Vice President of Safe Harbour Underwriters, the commercial division of American Strategic Insurance (ASI) in 2005, a property and casualty company based in St. Petersburg, Florida. During his tenure at ASI, he continued to develop special expertise in the commercial residential property insurance sector through his work with various community association entities and insurance agents in Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas. As part of his role with these entities and agents, he has worked with teams that have successfully designed and executed the implementation of innovative programs for Condominium Associations, Homeowner Associations, Apartment Complexes and Continuing Care Retirement Communities.

Mr. Jones has been instrumental in writing hundreds of millions in revenue in these specialized market sectors.  He has been a frequent speaker at community association insurance industry conferences and is often called upon for his opinion on insurance industry issues related to insuring community associations in Florida. Prior to 2004, Mr. Jones served as an officer at other insurance and risk broking organizations including Marsh McLennan Companies, a global insurance enterprise with 57,000 colleagues worldwide. He also worked with traditional and non-traditional insurance transfers, including Group Funded deductible insurance programs for Religious Institution Practice, Hospitality Industry, Professional Liability and Reciprocal Insurance Exchange. Mr. Jones majored in Insurance and Risk Management at Centennial College.  He holds a Fellowship in Insurance and Risk Management and an Associate in Property and Casualty Insurance. He also holds an American Risk Manager (ARM) and Certified Property Insurance Adviser (CPIA) designations. In addition, he holds Florida Insurance Agent 220 license and a Texas Managing General Agent license.

Sharon Binnun – Executive Vice-President of Finance

Since 1985, Ms. Binnun has been involved in the insurance industry serving in a variety of leadership roles while leveraging her vast array of skills in the areas of finance, risk management, reinsurance, marketing, and staff development among others.

Ms. Binnun joined the team at Heritage in November 2014. After roles as an auditor with Deloitte and Touche, an insurance regulator, Chief Financial Officer of Citizens, and Executive Vice President of a mid-size Florida insurer (Cypress Insurance), her role as Executive Vice President at a large publicly held property insurer was the next logical move. Other roles in her notable career include Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, Deputy Commissioner; Thomas Howell Ferguson, Senior Consultant; Katz Kutter Law Firm, CFO and Consultant; Florida Department of Insurance, Chief Examiner; and Deloitte & Touche, Tax Manager.

Ms. Binnun earned her Bachelor’s in Accounting from Florida State University, and her Master’s Degree in Professional Accountancy from the University of Miami. Her various roles in the insurance industry over the last 35 years have allowed her to hone her ability to identify opportunities and apply her creative problem solving skills while solidifying her reputation as an esteemed financial expert.

Paul Neilson – Vice President of Claims

Mr. Neilson began his property casualty insurance career in 1979 after graduating from Western Michigan University.  For 16 years, he served in positions of increasing responsibility in Michigan, California and Florida with Aetna Life & Casualty.  Paul led the property claim department at First Floridian Auto & Home Insurance Company/Travelers of Florida, an affiliate of The Travelers Indemnity Company, for 14 years.  With Travelers, he was responsible for directing the personal and commercial lines property operations, auto/property physical damage quality assurance programs, and catastrophe planning and response. From August 2010 to August 2011, Mr. Neilson served as the Director of Claims Management for Homeowners Choice Property & Casualty Insurance Company. Prior to joining Heritage, Mr. Neilson served as Claims Quality Assurance Manager for Citizens Property Insurance Corporation where his department conducted claim file audits and adjuster field re-inspections. 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 has served on the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s Insurance Damage Assessment Team, and is a member and past presenter of the Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention, Property Loss Research Bureau, and the Windstorm Conference.  He is known for his ability to build long-term, productive relationships with agents, policyholders, regulators, and staff. Mr. Neilson is a voting member of the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, Property & Casualty Fraud Task Force.

In his spare time, Paul enjoys performing home improvement projects, automotive repairs and is an avid NASCAR fan.

Joseph Peiso – Vice President Compliance

Mr. Peiso came to Heritage with thirty years of hands on experience in the property casualty insurance business. His areas of expertise include merger, acquisition, captive formation/operation and new company formation among others.

Mr. Peiso began his career in a financial reporting role after two years in public accounting. He spent the next few years in a variety of insurance industry roles until he had an opportunity to enter the regulatory environment. At one point he returned to public accounting to help a regional firm enter the insurance regulatory support market and eventually returned to the insurance industry as a consultant assisting companies with financial modeling supporting their formation or expansion applications. He previously served as CFO – United Insurance Holdings, CFO – Sunz Insurance, and North Carolina Chief Financial Examiner.

Mr. Peiso attended the University of Florida where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting. He holds the following industry designations: CPA (Certified Public Accountant), CPCU (Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter), ARM-E (Associate Risk Management-Enterprise), and ARe (Associate in Reinsurance). He is widely known for his resourcefulness and problem-solving abilities, and enjoys the challenge of keeping up with the ever-evolving regulatory/compliance environment. As an avid sportsman who enjoys cycling, hiking and kayaking, it comes as no surprise that he is passionate about Rails to Trails, an organization that helps keep the outdoors accessible using real estate reclaimed from a dated mode of transportation.

Timothy Paddock – Chief Actuary

Mr. Paddock joined Heritage Insurance in 2013 to create and lead an in-house actuarial function. His extensive experience spanning 35+ years and proven success with similar projects cemented his position as the right person for the job. His career has been focused on actuarial pricing and loss reserving along with management of actuarial, data analytics, regulatory compliance, catastrophe modeling, and product development professionals.

Mr. Paddock earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics at the University of Lowell in Massachusetts and began his career with Hanover Insurance in an actuarial training program. He later accepted a position as Actuarial Manager at Nationale-Nederlanden (ING) in Keene, NH, and over the next 13 years at ING, he was elected to several positions at the Associate Vice President (AVP) and Vice President (VP) levels. Mr. Paddock served as VP/Chief Actuary for Western Reserve Group in Wooster, OH, from 1997-2009 before seeking a warmer climate and moving to Florida where he served in similar roles with two other Florida domestic companies.

Mr. Paddock is a Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society (FCAS), as well as a Member of the American Academy of Actuaries (MAAA). He takes every opportunity to share his passion for his field by mentoring and advancing future actuaries and building enthusiastic teams. Outside of the office, Tim visits his children in Chicago and Washington DC as much as possible and is a soccer enthusiast having refereed for several years.