John Ritenour on The Importance of Building a Positive Corporate Culture

Happy workers make productive workers. That’s what a study by the University of Warwick’s researchers found. Their conclusions maintained that workers were 12 percent more productive when they worked in a pleasant environment. Insurance Office of America’s Co-Founder John Ritenour couldn’t agree more. When he launched the now-expansive insurance giant over 30 years ago, John Ritenour focused on building a positive corporate culture, embracing employee autonomy, and fostering happiness.

Building a Positive Corporate Culture at IOA

John Ritenour was already an insurance industry veteran when he co-founded Insurance Office of America. At other insurance brokerages, he saw what happened when top management changed. More often than not, sales commissions were cut, and incentives were eliminated or changed. 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. Several years later, when his dream of his own business became reality, he remembered his pledge.

The structure John Ritenour created at Insurance Office of America is deliberately unique from how other insurance brokerages are structured. IOA allows producers to act as independent business owners, which allows 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 brokerages.

Producers at IOA have freedom that they could only replicate by owning their own stand-alone insurance brokerage. 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 corporate environment, Ritenour remarked, “They’re owners. They act like owners. That’s what makes IOA different.”

A Culture of Inclusion and Diversity

While John Ritenour, and now Heath Ritenour, have always sought to promote a positive corporate culture, both understand that it’s not something that you “set up” once and forget about. At the end of 2020, IOA welcomed Gallaher Edge as a partner to help the company better embrace a culture of inclusion and diversity.

Says Dr. Laura Gallaher, CEO and founder of Gallaher Edge, “For many business leaders, the challenges of 2020 have created a catalyst for change when it comes to company culture. It’s not enough for business leaders to simply talk about company culture; they need to foster an environment of psychological safety, where people feel genuinely included and respected regardless of their job role or any demographic variables. Organizations like IOA are setting a great example by taking an introspective look at their culture to enhance inclusion among employees.”

With the help of Gallaher Edge, IOA has created a program to promote talent from within, called Grow Leaders from the Inside Out (GLIO). One key element of this program is customized workshops that focus on maturity, self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-accountability. Says John’s son, Heath Ritenour, chairman and CEO of IOA, “Through this program, we are hearing from employees firsthand how they perceive our culture so we know where to focus our goals and efforts. Using this feedback, IOA’s leaders will work with Gallaher Edge to fundamentally analyze and adapt our behavior, beliefs, and identity to have the greatest long-term impact on our individuals, teams, and the company as a whole.”

Benefits of Happy Employees

Both Ritenours are quick to point out that it’s not just the employees who profit from a positive corporate culture. The business also benefits. Seasoned business thought leader John Ritenour points out a few examples:

  1. Lower turnover. A positive work environment encourages workers to stay at their jobs longer, saving the agency money on training, recruiting, and hiring. Since IOA is structured so that salespeople/producers are earning more than they can in other industry positions, there’s no reason for them to leave.
  2. Higher productivity. John Ritenour emphasizes that too many insurance executives see higher sales commissions as an added expense, rather than an added opportunity. These executives miss the point that, for the salesperson to earn high commissions, the company is selling a lot of insurance policies and thus making money also. By encouraging salespeople to achieve commission benchmarks and sales incentives, you are really encouraging them to make money for your agency.
  3. Solid reputation. Consumers and businesses purchase insurance from people and companies they trust. By creating a solid, positive work environment, you also create a reputation for positive employees who aren’t leaving in droves or bad-mouthing your business. In the digital era where reputation is more important than ever before, good word-of-mouth advertising is invaluable.
  4. Stronger creativity. A happy workplace also frees up the mind to be creative and fosters new, innovative ideas. When they don’t have to worry about getting fired or yelled at on a daily basis, employees can let their creativity flow.

Giving Back as Part of a Positive Corporate Culture

John Ritenour has always been committed to the communities where he lives and works. He sees this as another aspect of creating a positive corporate culture. It fosters goodwill for employees to help those in the community who are less fortunate or who are going through a rough patch. “It just feels good,” explains Ritenour. Of course, it’s not mandatory, but he is always pleasantly surprised at how many employees choose to support the company’s charitable initiatives, whether financially or with their time.

There are plenty charitable events for employees to get behind. Since 2005, the Ritenours and IOA have sponsored the IOA Corporate 5k, an annual race/walk to benefit central Florida charities and food banks. This event has grown to be the largest event of its kind in the state of Florida and is affectionately known as “the largest office party in Florida.” While the goal is to raise money for local charities, the event also makes it fun for company employees who attend with things like a Workplace Wellness Award, Team Spirit Award, and even a prize for the best T-shirt design. The company is a major supporter of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, Christian Service Center, and Track Shack Youth Foundation.

About John Ritenour

A native of McKeesport, in southwest PA, Ritenour worked briefly in that area’s steel mills before entering the insurance business in the mid-1970s. His first job was as a door-to-door insurance salesman, a job that earned him enough money to marry his high school sweetheart, Valli. He shot to the top of the sales team, becoming that company’s top producer within six months. John and Valli opened their own insurance agency in the 1980s. After several years, they sold the company and moved to central Florida, where they opened Insurance Office of Florida, the company that would eventually become IOA.

Over his lengthy career, Ritenour has earned numerous awards. Among these are Success Magazine’s Success Award for Business Achievement and the Symetra Tour’s (LPGA) Eloise Trainor Award.

The Ritenours still make central Florida their home. Although they have passed the reins of the business to their son, Heath, the Ritenours are still active in the company’s charitable activities and are available as advisors on corporate culture. Being semi-retired gives John time to spend with the couple’s grandchildren. He’s working on being the “best grandfather in the world.”

About Insurance Office of America

With its headquarters in Longwood, Florida, Insurance Office of America has more than 60 offices in the United States and Ireland. In its 30 plus years in business, IOA has grown from a three-person operation to having more than 1,300 producers and team members. The company was named among the Top 100 Independent Property/Casualty Agencies in the United States in 2020 by Insurance Journal magazine.