The Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Board of Governors, in a special meeting Tuesday, surprised some in the Florida insurance industry by naming its general counsel as CEO – without a nationwide search.
The board voted unanimously to elevate Tim Cerio to replace longtime CEO and director Barry Gilway, who announced his retirement in December. Before Gilway took over in 2012, Citizens launched a wide search for a new leader, eventually luring Gilway, who had worked with other major carriers in North America.
Cerio, who has served as Citizens’ general counsel for a few years, was named the corporation’s interim CEO in December. On Tuesday, the board wasted little time in making him permanent executive.
“Frankly, my predisposition often times is to do a more formalized search,” board member Charlie Lydecker said at the meeting, noting that he was recently involved in a national search for a new University of Florida president. “But in the case of Citizens, the needs are very, very different.”
It’s not often that a corporation has an experienced leader waiting in the wings at a time when a smooth transition is needed, Lydecker said. Cerio has been practicing law for more than 25 years and has negotiated multi-billion deals, Lydecker and a Citizens news release said.
Cerio also is known for his involvement in Florida politics, behind the scenes. He served as general counsel to Rick Scott in 2015 and 2016, when Scott was governor of Florida. Cerio also serves on the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission and is a member of the Board of Governors of the State University System of Florida. He’s on the board of the James Madison Institute, known as a conservative, free-market think tank, and previously served on the 2017-2018 Florida Constitution Revision Commission.
“Over the past decade under Barry Gilway’s leadership, Citizens has become an industry leader on so many fronts,” Cerio said in a statement. “I’m excited and honored to continue that legacy as we address new challenges and work toward stabilizing the Florida property insurance market.”
Board members said the transition comes at an important time for Citizens, just five weeks before the Florida Legislature convenes in March. Lawmakers at a special session in December adopted major reforms designed to limit litigation costs for property insurers, but more changes could be on the way this year.
Citizens, created by the Legislature 21 years ago to serve as an insurer of last resort, ballooned to more than 1.2 million policies last year due to its limits on premium increases, making it the largest carrier in the state by far. Several other carriers have stopped writing in Florida, have gone insolvent or have raised premiums significantly.
Officials have made it a priority to reduce the policy count and exposure for Citizens.
“Given the state of the market, the legislative changes that have to occur, it would be a real mistake to spend three months to six months going through a search process, while I absolutely believe we have a perfect candidate in front of us,” Gilway said at the meeting.
Cerio’s appointment will have to reviewed by the Florida Senate.
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