John Ritenour has seen his share of poorly managed insurance agencies and stressed out sales agents in his lifetime. He worked as a sales agent himself until launching his own insurance company in the early 1980s. After selling the business and founding the Insurance Office of America (IOA) with his wife Valli in 1988, John Ritenour saw the need for a positive corporate culture more than ever. However, he was nearly alone with his thinking at a time when most insurance agencies were management-heavy and put little stock in employee experience.
Some in the insurance industry have resisted improving company culture because they wrongly assume it only benefits the employees. What they fail to realize is that successful companies start from the bottom up and not the other way around. When employees feel supported, encouraged, and have the resources they need, they are more productive and remain in their jobs longer. They also take fewer sick days, which should come as welcome relief to any manager who understands how much everyone can fall behind when one employee is unexpectedly absent.
Empowering employees and making work an emotionally healthy place are not empty platitudes for John Ritenour. He put this into practice at a time when few businesses even considered the impact of a toxic work environment. Aggressive sales managers were the norm, and any agent who failed to live up to heavy-handed expectations could find themselves out of a job.
When John Ritenour and his wife launched IOA, the first thing he did was convert all insurance sales agents who were employees to independent business owners. This put them in charge of their own income, and he noticed a change in productivity immediately. With agents taking responsibility for their own performance, their confidence grew as well.
John Ritenour’s approach to sales agent management was a far cry from what he had witnessed while working as an agent himself. From creating unreachable sales goals to cancelling promised rewards, managers acted in an aggressive, authoritarian manner that did not truly benefit anyone. By making his agents independent, Ritenour sent the message that he trusts them to do what is right. He does not need to micromanage their tasks or apply pressure, since agents are free to determine their own income goals.
In decades past, sales agents needed to prove their commitment to the employer by putting work above everything else. Families suffered as a result. John Ritenour understands the importance of balance and trusts his agents to determine what works best for them while still meeting goals.
John Ritenour was years ahead of his time in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the focus seemed to be climbing the career ladder at all costs. Just as no one benefits from working for authoritarian managers, the entire company suffers when its employees do not have balance in their lives.