FloridaTrend.com, the Website for Florida Business

Trendsetters: May 2009

Michael Gold
Michael Gold [Photo: Palm Beach Post]

January found a confident Michael Gold sketching a future as one of Florida’s larger property insurers and the solution to Florida’s homeowner insurance woes. His People’s Trust Insurance sells direct, cutting out agents, to save money — as much as 20% to 25% per annual premium, he says. Gold’s other innovations include building his own contractor network that inspects damage and does repairs when customers make a claim. “We have invented and created a whole new mousetrap,” Gold says.

Michael Gold
People’s Trust Insurance, CEO
Boca Raton

Motive: “All my previous endeavors have been about making money.” With People’s, “I wanted to do something to make my children and grandchildren proud of me.”

Personal: Married 33 years; four children; one grandchild.

And regulators beat a path to his door. In March, state CFO Alex Sink issued an order threatening to pull his agency license for using unlicensed people in his call center to sell insurance. Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, separately, found other violations at People’s and shut down new sales. He set a deadline to comply with state law, ordered People’s to buy more reinsurance, fined it $155,000 and ordered it to deposit $500,000 with the state. McCarty also offered some encouragement: “The company has expressed some ideas that, if implemented, would address some of the most difficult issues in the property insurance market.”

McCarty won applause from those whom Gold bypasses, the Florida Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, which pushed McCarty to investigate People’s. “The marketing tactics of People’s Trust remind one of the saying, ‘If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,’ ” says association spokesman Bob Lotane.

Gold, 56, sold an office automation products business in 1997 to retire to Florida. He started People’s after his own homeowner’s premium went up 400%. People’s grew in a year to 35,000 policies, and Gold projected 500,000 policies in five years. But at $22.7 million in premiums for 2008, Gold was $5 million ahead of the schedule People’s filed with the state. Now, People’s has agreed not to top $27.9 million for 2010.

Gold says carrying out McCarty’s orders will make People’s stronger.

Making an Impact

Larry Langebrake
Larry Langebrake
SRI- St. Petersburg Director
St. Petersburg
[Photo: Bob Croslin]

Two years into a five-year plan to make marine research operation SRI-St. Petersburg self-supporting, director Larry Langebrake lists the milestones: $9 million in research funding coming in with a goal of $11 million more by year-end, along with plans to hire another 10 to 12 people this year, adding to the current 68. That’s well along in creating the 100 jobs it promised in return for $20 million from former Gov. Jeb Bush’s innovation incentive fund. In August in Tampa Bay, it held a “full-blown explosive exercise, no pun intended” to test prototype equipment in a simulated detonation of an improvised explosive device. More announcements are coming, Langebrake says.

SRI, a Silicon Valley non-profit, teamed with the University of South Florida in 2006 to create

SRI-St. Petersburg from the university’s Center for Ocean Technology and chose Langebrake to lead it. An Ohio native and electrical engineer, he originally came to USF to create devices such as sensors and underwater robots for marine science professors. SRI should move into its new building at the Port of St. Petersburg late this year. Says Langebrake, 50,

“It’s a lot of hard work, make no mistake about that.”