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Business Observer Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014 5 years ago

Prominent Sarasota insurance firm sold

Three generations of Ludwigs have run Ludwig-Walpole Co. since 1933.

SARASOTA — Bolt Insurance, a technology-focused insurance firm from Connecticut with a concentration on small business clients, acquired Ludwig-Walpole Co., one of the oldest and largest insurance firms in the Sarasota-Bradenton market.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Ludwig-Walpole, founded in 1933, has about 15 employees. The firm's employees will stay with the company after the merger, says a Bolt executive. Ludwig-Walpole President Robert Ludwig, in a statement, says the “combination matches our experienced and talented employees with Bolt's industry-leading technology.”

Bolt Florida Regional Director Robert Rizzo says the transaction, the firm's third in the Gulf Coast in two years, is a key step toward meeting lofty growth goals in the state. Rizzo calls the Ludwigs the first family of the local insurance community. “They had many suitors,” Rizzo told the Business Observer in an interview. “We are humbled by the opportunity to work with the Ludwig family. You can't do business in Sarasota and not know who the Ludwigs are.”

Robert Ludwig is the third generation of his family to run the firm. High school friends Charles Walpole and Ludwig's grandfather, Gerald Ludwig Sr., founded the agency out of an office on Main Street in 1933. Clients back then included John Ringling and several circus performers. Gerald Ludwig was also a well-known Sarasota politician. He served three terms as a Sarasota city commissioner and was a vice mayor and mayor from the 1940s through the 1970s. Ludwig's son, Gerald Ludwig Jr., joined the firm in the 1960s and ran it for decades, until his son, Robert Ludwig, took over. Another Ludwig son, Gerald Ludwig III, also works at the firm.

The Ludwigs referred all questions about the transaction to Rizzo. The family will stay on with the business, at least for the short-term, in a consulting role. The office will be consolidated into Bolt's office in a Lakewood Ranch corporate park. Ludwig-Walpole moved into a new headquarters on Fruitville Road in 2010, an office built with the latest in hurricane sustainability technology, including a 100,000-watt generator to maintain power during outages. That building is now listed for sale with an asking price of $1.8 million.

Farmington, Conn.-based Bolt, which stands for Business Owners Liability Team, entered Florida in 2012 when it bought two firms: Sarasota-based PFG Insurance Agency, which held more than $1 million in premiums, and Port Charlotte-based Florida Direct Insurance Agency, which had less than $1 million in premiums..

Bolt writes auto, home and commercial lines in all 50 states. Its niche is in web-based technology that collects all underwriting information required by top-line carriers and allows business owners to quickly view proposals online within minutes. Bolt is a subsidiary of suburban Philadelphia-based Actua Corp., a $59 million publicly traded firm with a focus on software and cloud computing.

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