In 2018, John Ritenour stepped back from the insurance industry, but his impact is still being felt throughout the industry and will be for years to come. He not only created one of the most successful privately owned insurance businesses in the United States, but his innovations have been adopted by other insurance agencies around the country. A 30-year career in the insurance business is a rare achievement, and John Ritenour has definitely created a legacy.
A native of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh, John Ritenour started working in the steel mills, a working-class job that many of his peers and family members aspired to. However, he quickly realized that the hard life in the mills wasn’t right for him. He wanted more. He took his first insurance job in the mid-1970s as a door-to-door insurance salesman. The stability of this job gave him the courage to ask his high school girlfriend, Valli, to marry him. She accepted and has been his partner, both personally and professionally, ever since.
John Ritenour found he had an aptitude for insurance sales and was a top producer within six months. His success led John and Valli to open their own insurance agency, Ritenour Insurance, in Pennsylvania, in the early 1980s. Several years after opening Ritenour Insurance, the couple moved to central Florida, where they founded Insurance Office of Florida (later named Insurance Office of America) in 1988.
John Ritenour has seen a lot of change in the insurance business over the last 30 years. He’s taken his own insurance brokerage, Insurance Office of America (IOA), from a three-person office to a business with 60 offices around the United States and Northern Ireland. Insurance Journal ranked IOA in 2020 among its Top 100 Independent Property/Casualty Agencies.
IOA thrived under John Ritenour’s leadership. Now under his son Heath’s control, IOA has become one of the fastest-growing insurance companies in the United States. Building on his father’s reputation for innovation and excellence, Heath is streamlining the way the company writes and processes insurance applications, using artificial intelligence (AI) to capture the information the company already has on its customers (with their permission) and reducing the time it takes to process an application by up to two-thirds.
Heath is also bringing more technology into the IOA workplace, with an app for the company’s customers to use to file claims, pay their premiums, and check on the status of claims.
In addition to his charitable work, John Ritenour has left his mark on the insurance industry in a positive way. When he first started working in the insurance business, he saw that sales employee compensation was somewhat fickle and would change when management changed. More often than not, sales commissions were cut and incentives eliminated or changed, not raised. In addition, incentives like trips or bonuses that salespeople had been working toward all year evaporated overnight. John Ritenour saw how demoralizing this type of culture could be and vowed to offer a different type of work environment if he ever opened his own agency.
He made good on that pledge when he opened IOA. He deliberately structured IOA so that insurance producers are able to act as independent business owners. This gives them virtually limitless earning potential. “We don’t believe in earning caps,” explains John Ritenour. Commission rates at IOA are also much higher than those at most other insurance companies.
Producers at IOA have freedom that they could only replicate by owning their own stand-alone insurance agency. The structure gives producers a stake in the company, making them even more motivated for the entire company to succeed. In creating this type of environment, Ritenour remarked, “They’re owners. They act like owners. That’s what makes IOA different.” It’s a model more and more insurance brokerages are following.
Another innovation that John Ritenour started at IOA was the idea of a one-stop insurance shop. When he and Valli opened IOA, they saw a need for an agency where customers could get all of the coverage they needed, both for their personal life and their business. At the time, few agencies offered both personal and business insurance products. Today, IOA offers dozens of personal and professional insurance options to fit the bespoke needs of every customer.
John Ritenour is thrilled that he’s been able to leave a thriving business to the next generation, his son Heath. Heath joined the family business in the early 1990s as an intern, became CEO, and stepped up as chairman in 2018. Finding an even balance between work and family has always been important to John. It’s a lesson he hopes that he’s instilled in his son. With Valli as his business partner, John says he was able to coach basketball, baseball, and football without missing out on anything at work. John explains it this way, “I loved coaching. I wouldn’t miss a practice, and I wouldn’t miss a game. I wouldn’t miss any part of Heath’s life.”
John Ritenour has been intentional about mentoring Heath from his first days at IOA. “It’s not enough to grow up in an insurance household. The company needed him to understand every facet of the business, how things work, and why we do the things we do,” explains John. John dedicated ample time, effort, and energy to sharing his wisdom and expertise with Heath. Working together and shifting more responsibility to Heath over many years, John Ritenour bestowed his leadership skills to son Heath, giving him what he hopes is an essential playbook to ensure Heath’s—and the company’s—future success. “The thing that I’m most proud of is my son,” says John. “He’s done a great job in stepping into my shoes.”
One of the best aspects of his success, according to John Ritenour, is his ability to give back to the community. John Ritenour founded the IOA Foundation in 2008, and today, his son Heath is the president of the IOA Foundation, but John and his wife are still active. The Foundation’s charitable projects, according to the foundation’s website, include “children, education, health and wellness, animals, social services, entrepreneurship, mentoring, financial empowerment and financial literacy.” Some of the events the Foundation sponsors include the IOA Golf Classic and the IOA Championship.
John Ritenour has been honored repeatedly for his contributions to the insurance industry as well as for his charitable work. Among his awards are the Success Award for Business Achievement from “Success” magazine and the Symetra Tour’s (LPGA) Eloise Trainor Award.
John sees his work with children via the Foundation as giving them an example that you can break the patterns of your family’s past and push to succeed. He hasn’t forgotten his humble beginnings. Says John, “I wanted to be successful. Growing up where I grew up, there weren’t a lot of successful people.” He’s working to change that, one child at a time.
John and Valli plan to continue their charitable work, both with the IOA Foundation and with charitable organizations outside of the Foundation.
The couple live in central Florida. When they’re not working, they spend time perfecting their grandparenting skills and golfing. Says John, “My next big goal is to become the ‘Best Grandfather in the World.’”
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