TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Much of the news about Citizens Property Insurance Corp. in recent years has not been good, and that bothers President and CEO Barry Gilway. As rates climbed, Floridians heard a series of unflattering stories about the state-run insurer.
Last week, Gilway released a lengthy report of hundreds of internal complaints about fraud, theft and porn on computers. He's also had to explain excessive spending on travel and meals -- including a $633 a night hotel stay in Bermuda -- and huge pay raises for several executives.
Gilway has been on the job eight months now and he thinks the company has not gotten enough credit for the problems that have been fixed.
He concedes Citizens did develop a troubled culture before he arrived there. That's why he released last week's report detailing nearly 500 allegations of misconduct between 2008 and 2012.
Gilway wants Floridians to see, warts and all, what the company previously looked like because he said he's changing the culture for the future.
He has fired some senior executives and shifted their responsibilities to managers he can trust.
He's hired new forensic auditors to focus on financial abuses, appointed an ethics officer to streamline the handling of internal complaints and instituted tougher restrictions on travel and meal expenses.
"Today not one employee can travel out of state or internationally unless I pre-approve before the trip takes place, I personally pre-approve that travel. Not only if they can make the travel, but also what is it going to cost, what are the airfares, what kind of hotel are they going to stay in, what kind of estimated cost will they have for meals, etcetera," said Gilway.
Slowly but surely, he said, Citizens is instituting the procedures and people to fix the problems that have tagged the company as having a troubled culture.
"Today we just simply have a much, much stronger organization that's capable of addressing the type of issues that we released last week."
As for those big raises, five employees received pay hikes ranging from $25,000 to $31,000.
Gov. Rick Scott has called the raises outrageous. But Gilway stands by the salary increases, saying the executives were given more responsibilities and their pay is comparable to the private sector.
"We showed a compensation package basically that shows at the executive level we are way, way behind market and we have some tough challenges and the only way we're going to solve those challenges is we're going to need good people."
Gilway said he feels good about what he's accomplished in his first eight months and he's "thrilled" with efforts to reduce the size of the company.
When he started on the job in June 2012, Citizens had about 1.5 million customers. Now it's down to 1.3 million and he's aiming to get that number to 1.1 million by the end of the year.
Gilway said his depopulation plan will focus more on using a "clearinghouse" approach, which helps provide more purchasing options to insurance customers. He hopes those extra options offer customers more comparable premiums in the private market.
Gilway dislikes the methods that Citizens used in the past to shed policies.
"Instead of Citizens taking a negative approach and trying to drive people away because we're taking away coverages and taking a negative tact to move them off the books, to me, we can do some things that are positive."
First Coast News