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IOA’s John Ritenour Builds an Impressive Insurance Career by Putting Customers First
Excelling in a sales-based industry generally means meeting production quotas and sales goals. Sometimes, serving the customer diminishes in importance as daily, weekly, and monthly numbers take precedence.
At John Ritenour’s Insurance Office of America, however, the customer has always been the top priority. In addition, the company’s agents are encouraged to think like entrepreneurs, and there is top-down support for work-life balance. John Ritenour cultivated this innovative company culture during 30+ years of building a successful insurance business.
John Ritenour Enters the Work World
John Ritenour’s first job displayed his admirable work ethic and dedication to results. The young McKeesport, Pennsylvania, native was tasked with shoveling coal into the furnace at a Pittsburgh steel mill.
With plenty of energy, young John was fast and efficient at his task. Rather than being recognized for his good performance, he was told to work slower, as he was outshining his lazy co-workers.
Embarking on a Notable Insurance Career
John Ritenour decided to find a job that better matched his drive for success. During the mid-1970s, he embarked on his long insurance career with a job as a door-to-door life insurance salesman. Although few businesses use this sales method today, it was once a major way to generate sales.
He quickly developed the product knowledge and sales skills to obtain results. In fact, Ritenour was the company’s top performer after just six months of knocking on prospects’ doors.
John Ritenour reflects on this thoroughly enjoyable work experience. “I recognized that I was innately effective at forging professional relationships with clients. I also greatly enjoyed pursuing a professional venture that would bring customers peace of mind and much-needed service.”
A Work-Life Balance Conflict Brings a Revelation
John Ritenour’s manager had been pleased with the young insurance salesman’s performance, However, the relationship quickly soured after John and his new wife Valli experienced the birth of their son Heath.
The morning after the memorable event, Ritenour asked his manager to perform a few collections so the brand-new father could spend time with his wife and son. When the manager refused, John knew it was time to consider other options.
However, this unpleasant experience was not without its benefits. John Ritenour realized that achieving a work-life balance was important, and he wanted to be associated with a company that shared that value.
He also knew that fellow employees should be treated with respect. Finally, a corporate culture that encouraged entrepreneurial thinking would be essential to enduring success.
With these attributes firmly planted in his mind, John Ritenour accepted another insurance sales opportunity. Encouraged by even greater success in that position, John and Valli Ritenour started their own insurance business. After several years of building a solid customer base, they sold the business and moved to Florida in accordance with their long-term plan.
Insurance Office of America Takes Shape
In 1988, John and Valli Ritenour launched Insurance Office of Florida. John Ritenour, Valli Ritenour, and one other ambitious insurance agent formed the nucleus of the team. The three insurance professionals focused on prospecting and building customer relationships. At the same time, John and Valli Ritenour took steps to minimize overhead so the company could become profitable more quickly.
Insurance Office of Florida experienced steady growth, and the company gradually expanded to several states. At that point, John Ritenour knew it was time to change the business’ name. He rebranded the company as Insurance Office of America (or IOA), which currently does business across the United States.
Autonomy and Work-Life Balance
When structuring his new insurance business, John Ritenour drew upon the principles he had long valued. Serving the customer, rather than focusing on sales commissions, was the first priority.
In addition, IOA enabled its agents to own an equity position in their books of business, helping to cultivate their entrepreneurial mindset. Stated another way, each agent was encouraged to regard their job as their own small business. In fact, John Ritenour structured some sales positions to enable team members to earn an unlimited income.
Finally, John Ritenour promoted a company culture that valued a work-life balance. If an agent wanted to coach their child’s sports team, or otherwise spend time with their family, that was perfectly acceptable. Agents would not face any repercussions for spending less time in the office.
John Ritenour followed his own guidance, coaching several of his son Heath’s sports teams while also keeping his insurance business on track for continued growth. These coaching experiences were an important part of John’s life. “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.”
Insights from the Executive Suite
Reflecting on his exemplary career, now-retired insurance entrepreneur John Ritenour discusses the factors that made him successful. “Within my professional journey, I have found that shortcuts do not truly exist. There’s no substitution for hard work, and hard work does really pay off.
“While I’ve always been proud of being able to maintain a healthy work-life balance, my time at work has always been spent focusing on the tasks at hand. Historically, I have tried to avoid busywork, and have maintained a daily hierarchy of needs to determine the most pressing matters. I have set short- and long-term goals and have remained focused on accomplishing as much as possible within designated time frames.”
Proven Marketing Strategy
Every sales-based organization depends on a regular flow of prospects that ideally become customers. A well-coordinated marketing strategy attracts these prospects, and a skilled salesperson captures the sale.
John Ritenour notes that IOA’s marketing program has always focused on building strategic partnerships that provide visibility within a targeted community. Typically, IOA sponsors events or works with entities within a certain industry or consumer group.
As a result, potential clients see IOA as a familiar face within the community. Thus, these consumers and/or businesses are more likely to contact the brokerage for their insurance needs.
Most Satisfying Business Experience
John Ritenour proudly launched the IOA Sports Practice division with his son Heath. Both men are avid sports fans, and they enjoyed creating specialized insurance products together. John and Heath Ritenour have designed targeted coverages for professional sports teams, sports arenas, and other sports-related entities.
John Ritenour’s Advice to His Younger Self
If John Ritenour could speak with his younger self, he would have some valuable advice that applies to any ambitious (and impatient) young entrepreneur. First, he would remind them that, although building a business takes hard work, the entrepreneurial journey has its own rewards. In addition, they should celebrate the small victories that occur on a daily or weekly basis.
Finally, young entrepreneurs should recognize that it takes time to build a solid foundation that leads to future growth. Expecting immediate gratification, and losing interest when it does not materialize, is not a realistic strategy.
Enjoying a Well-Deserved Retirement
Now retired in central Florida, John and Valli Ritenour support many community-based causes via the IOA Foundation. This nonprofit organization works with other local groups to assist children from birth through their college years.
In addition, the IOA Foundation supports other charitable causes including literacy, financial empowerment, health and wellness, and animals. The IOA Foundation also contributes to education, mentoring, and social services programs.
Numerous Awards and Accolades
During an insurance career that spanned more than 30 years, insurance entrepreneur John Ritenour earned awards from many respected organizations. He is most proud of Success Magazine’s Success Award for Business Achievement along with the Symetra Tour (LPGA) Eloise Trainor Award.
Insurance Office of America’s Future
The insurance industry has historically been encumbered by inefficient processes on both the consumer and brokerage sides. Laborious handwritten applications, and later time-consuming online applications, have long led to exercises in frustration for customers.
Within the brokerage, insurance agents were forced to work within the labor-intensive (and often manual) company operations framework. Getting policies issued and making account updates was often excruciatingly slow.
Computerized systems offered a substantial improvement. However, sometimes multiple programs did not talk to each other or contained conflicting information. Much of the time, the net effect was a dysfunctional system that did not adequately meet customers’ needs.
IOA Utilizes New Technology to Modernize Operations
In 2021, IOA is at the forefront of disruptive industry change. The company has implemented artificial intelligence (or AI) and machine learning to streamline its customer databases and operating systems for personal lines.
For example, the new SimplyIOA digital platform uses publicly available information to autofill most of the form. The consumer quickly verifies the information and finalizes the application. This process takes about just a few minutes versus almost an hour to complete a conventional application form.
However, many customers still prefer an insurance agent’s trademark personalized service. For those consumers, agents are available via phone. By making the customer’s concerns the top priority, IOA ensures that its foundational principles remain intact.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or the management of EconoTimes