John Ritenour is the Co-Founder of the Insurance Office of America, along with his wife, Valli Ritenour. IOA was launched in 1988, and under John Ritenour’s leadership, the company grew into one of the largest insurance brokerages of its kind in the country. Already an experienced insurance broker prior to launching IOA, John Ritenour recognized the shortcomings of the status quo, and vowed to create a company that valued autonomy, eliminated earnings caps for insurance brokers, and maintained an entrepreneurial spirit.
John Ritenour has received numerous accolades throughout his professional career, including the Eloise Trainor Award (Symetra Tour), Entrepreneur of the Year (Dynetech/Crummer), and Success Award for Business Achievement (Success Magazine).
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Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
John Ritenour: Hailing from a working-class town near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I recognized the importance of hard work very early on. After working various jobs, I was introduced to the realm of insurance and joined an established company as an insurance broker. I quickly worked my way to the top, essentially unable to climb the professional ranks within the confines of the company’s structure. In other words, I was stuck, but my ambition was far greater than my surroundings. I knew I wanted more.
Thus, I set out to create Insurance Office of America under the very principles of disrupting the status quo in insurance. I wanted my insurance brokers to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit, and find a healthy work-life balance that allowed them to flourish. At the time of inception, in the late ’80s, this principle was radical! I also wanted Insurance Office of America to become a proverbial one-stop shop for all types of insurance, which was another way to differentiate the company.
Of course, I experienced growing pains, but those experiences brought me great wisdom about entrepreneurship, hard work, and continued commitment to my team.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your viewpoint, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
John Ritenour: I believe that maybe some individuals are born with various inherent traits that can make it easier for them to pursue entrepreneurial goals. However, entrepreneurs are certainly made. They’re made from experiences that make them want to create tangible change. They’re crafted from years of frustration and grit, and powered by a dogged determination to see a goal all of the way through. Their formative experiences drive them, their intuitive and out-of-the-box thinking propels them to create new products, and their desire to create a self-sufficient professional life drives them forward.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
John Ritenour: As an entrepreneur, I have always been compassionate, recognizing my team members’ needs and desires. I have always maintained a steadfast sense of purpose, recognizing that my success and my company’s success are the basis for the financial stability of hundreds of families. Finally, I’ve always been extremely hard-working, and pride myself on being the first one to take on any challenge.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
John Ritenour: Insurance Office of America provides a breadth of insurance services to companies, individuals, and organizations. With every service available under one roof (auto insurance to workers’ compensation and everything in between), IOA is a leader in providing competitive insurance coverage.
Over the years, I watched the size of the company grow, and with each new location, I watched the company create tangible change within the communities it served. In addition, we’ve been able to launch several new features that I am proud of, including IOA Sports Partnerships, and Simply IOA. IOA is also a multigenerational business, and after working for the company for several years, my son, Heath Ritenour, took over the reins as CEO upon my transition to retirement.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
John Ritenour: When starting any business, entrepreneurs must assume that there will be obstacles to overcome, and there is no way to prepare for all of those obstacles ahead of time. The need to remain fluid and open to change is pivotal. Though research and preparation are very important when launching a business, unforeseen circumstances will arise. Instead of allowing those surprises to rattle them, entrepreneurs should move alongside the currents of change, and anticipate the need to problem-solve along the way.
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
John Ritenour: When I launched Insurance Office of America, I was already deeply involved in the insurance world, and knew how most businesses worked intimately. Thus, I was able to take the best parts of the industry with me, and leave behind the facets of the industry that I did not want to repeat. For those reasons, I didn’t assume anything. I knew exactly what I wanted within my own company, and what I didn’t.
For those entering a brand new industry, however, I would advise against making assumptions about what is important to their team members. For example, an entrepreneur may believe that financial success alone drives many salespeople. However, in a particular industry, maybe the sales team requires a more refined work-life balance in order to avoid exhaustion.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain
John Ritenour: I would tell myself not to worry so much, and to try to enjoy the ride! Often, as a budding entrepreneur, one places so much stock on the perceived success of the venture and fails to recognize the small victories, the memorable moments, and the uphill battles. Those moments all make up the tapestry of the experience and should be enjoyed.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
John Ritenour: When launching IOA, I was interested in disrupting the industry, and creating a very specific workplace atmosphere. I was very interested in workplace culture, and the effects that professional culture has on employees. At that time, many leaders did not put much stock in those considerations, and urged me to not “waste my time on such matters”.
However, as a husband and father, I knew that workplace culture, the ability to maintain autonomy, and a healthy work-life balance were extremely important to me. I spoke with my growing teams, and they all agreed. Thus, those considerations remained a mainstay of conscious thought throughout the growth of the company, and they made us stand out against the competition. Many employees chose to join our growing team because of this corporate culture we have maintained.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
John Ritenour: The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed the world in every aspect. While many people, industries, and sectors have suffered in various avenues as a direct result of the pandemic, entrepreneurs should not assume that now is not a good time to start a business. The pandemic has brought forth ripe opportunities for change, new and evolving needs to be met, and new considerations that people have previously ignored. The proverbial arena is open to change, evolution, and new ideas more than ever before, and entrepreneurs can certainly thrive under those conditions.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
John Ritenour: I can’t tell you how many aspiring entrepreneurs believe that they’ll be able to simply come up with a novel thought or product, and the rest will just come to them. Being an entrepreneur isn’t always pretty, and there is very real “grunt work” to be done to make things happen. Sure. some people get lucky and find success seemingly overnight. However, the process is much more arduous for many!
I would tell all prospective entrepreneurs to consider their business ventures as a top priority and ensure that they are ready to work.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
John Ritenour: In addition to understanding a particular industry or business, entrepreneurs who possess various leadership qualities tend to find success. Finding passion and drive to succeed within a business venture is pivotal, and having the perseverance and grit to stick with one’s goals when the going gets tough is essential in the long term.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
John Ritenour: I would encourage entrepreneurs to be well-versed in whatever industry they hope to enter. If they’re looking to create a new app, they should already know about competitors in the same arena, the technology powering apps, and leaders within that field, for example.
Entrepreneurs often multitask throughout the day, so I would recommend finding industry-specific or general leadership and business podcasts to listen to on the go. A few minutes of thought leadership during a commute can do wonders!
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
John Ritenour: As a lifelong sports fan, I would have liked to pursue any type of career that involves sports. From sports management to being an umpire or announcer, I love being surrounded by sports in general.
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
John Ritenour: There are so many people that would make great additions! I think I would choose Albert Einstein, as I believe his work ethic and creativity to be incredibly inspiring. Future generations of idea-makers, thinkers, and entrepreneurs could take a lesson from him about perseverance, tenacity, and commitment to creation.
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank John Ritenour for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with John Ritenour or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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