Business Monday

Ray Celedinas: Insurance firm has grown from Palm Beach Gardens to 50 states

Ray Celedinas, president and chief executive of Celedinas Insurance Group.
Ray Celedinas, president and chief executive of Celedinas Insurance Group. CELEDINAS INSURANCE GROUP

From humble beginnings as a small insurance agency, Celedinas Insurance Group based in Palm Beach Gardens has expanded into a national business.

Ray Celedinas, the company’s president and chief executive, counts more than 20,000 clients across the country, most of them businesses and wealthy families. In addition to the standard homeowners policies and life insurance, Celedinas Insurance Group also sells coverage for yachts, planes, jewelry and art.

Celedinas, who’s also the chairman of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, recently spoke to The Palm Beach Post:

Q. Where have you lived?

A. I’ve lived all my life in Palm Beach County. I’ve never lived anywhere else — and I don’t want to live anywhere else. I was born at St. Mary’s and lived for a short time in Riviera Beach. I spent most of my childhood in Palm Beach Gardens, and I’ve had a home in Palm Beach since 2004.

Q. Tell me about your company.

A. The company was founded in 1959 by my father. We just moved into a new headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens. We have offices in Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Miami and Ocean Reef, which is basically Key Largo. We’ve grown to 130 employees. We used to be just a Palm Beach County firm, but now we have business in all 50 states. Our specialty is working with high net worth people. Our private client services division is very well-known nationally.

Q. Describe your first job.

A. When I was 12 or 13, a buddy and I thought we could cut lawns in the neighborhood and make some extra money. It was one of those typical hot, muggy, rainy South Florida summers. It seemed like as soon as you were done mowing, the grass needed to be cut again. The lawnmowers were constantly conking out. I don’t know what I learned from that, but I definitely learned what I didn’t want to do.

Q. What has been your biggest challenge?

A. We’ve grown since 1985 at an annual rate of about 17 percent. Our biggest challenge is finding new associates that have what we call the right stuff — integrity, intelligence, motivation, people skills. It’s not that easy to find. The business has certainly become very complicated. In the past, 100 percent of the people we hired had an insurance background. Now, we’re resorting to looking for people with those four qualities who we can train in insurance.

Q. Describe your biggest business mistake.

A. We’re a pretty conservative firm. We don’t have a lot of debt or leverage, and we grew through the downturn. Our mistakes are usually missed opportunities — maybe passing on a chance to expand or passing on somebody we should have hired who went on to do well somewhere else.

Q. What do you see as the outlook for your business in Miami-Dade? In Broward?

A. The future outlook for our business in Dade and Broward counties is very positive. Changing demographics are in our favor. South Florida is growing at the expense of areas in Northeast and Rust Belt. We have aging baby boomers, affluent families and Latin Americans relocating to Dade and Broward counties in record numbers. South Florida has an exceptional quality of life, a stable business environment, favorable tax climate and fantastic weather year-round. As a business, we will continue to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace by developing unique and exclusive products and services to better serve these new residents and businesses. If the past is any indication of the future, we should be able to earn more than our share of these potential clients.

Q. What is the outlook for Palm Beach County?

A. The economy seems to be rebounding. I don’t know if it’s back to where it was in 2006 or 2007, but certainly parts of the real estate market are back. Some of the country club communities north of PGA seem to be very busy. The people who are moving here could afford to live anywhere, and they’re attracted for the same reasons we’re here — great weather, great quality of life and a favorable tax climate.

Q. What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?

A. Follow the golden rule. Treat others the way you would want to be treated.

Q. What’s the best business book you’ve read?

A. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. A classic. It was written in the 1930s. I’m surprised people don’t read it today. It gives great advice at a high level about how to treat people.

Q. And your favorite breakfast spot?

A. Cuccina Dell’ arte in Palm Beach. You know everybody. The owner, Mayor Gail Coniglio, serves breakfast.

Miami Herald staff contributed to this report.

Ray Steven Celedinas

Position: President and chief executive of Celedinas Insurance Group.

Personal: 52; married 30 years; two daughters.

Business: Celedinas Insurance Group. Headquarters: 4400 PGA Blvd., Suite 1000, Palm Beach Gardens.

About: Founded in 1959 by Ray Celedinas Sr. (retired in 1987). Licensed nationally and has clientele in all 50 states; and offices throughout South Florida, including Miami, Boca Raton, Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens and the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo.

▪ Annual revenues: $160 million.

▪ Website: www.celedinas.com.

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