Heath Ritenour, the Reluctant CEO Who Became an Innovative Leader

Heath Ritenour worked at Insurance Office of America (IOA), the company his parents founded and where his father served as CEO, for all but the first eight years of its existence. Despite his in-depth knowledge of the insurance industry and appreciation for how hard his parents worked to bring IOA to prominence, Heath Ritenour did not initially share his father’s vision of becoming the company’s CEO when the elder Ritenour retired.

How Heath Ritenour Came to Embrace His New Role

John Ritenour, Heath’s father and co-founder of IOA, had been grooming him to take over as CEO for 10 years. However, Heath Ritenour did not feel inner peace about accepting the enormous responsibility. He felt that he was not a natural salesperson, despite having spent a dozen years making cold calls early in his career to establish his own client base.

After turning his father down yet again, John Ritenour promised not to ask Heath about it anymore if he would just agree to pray about it. The answer to Heath’s prayer surprised him. He remembers stating the reasons why he was not the right fit for IOA’s new CEO. Heath then heard the words “if not you, then who?” as clear as day.

The surprising revelation caused Heath Ritenour to reflect further and determine that accepting the CEO position would guarantee that the innovative culture his parents worked so hard to achieve would remain in place. IOA has a unique business model that allows insurance agents to become independent business owners and drive their own incomes. The company also places a lot of emphasis on flexibility and work-life balance, encouraging employees to spend as much time with their families as possible.

Heath Ritenour served as CEO alongside his father from 2008 until John Ritenour’s retirement in 2018. He then became Chairman of the Board in 2019. Although the time since then has been more challenging than he could have anticipated due to the coronavirus pandemic, Heath Ritenour feels grateful for his father’s guidance to seek discernment about accepting a prominent role in company leadership.

How a Personal Health Crisis Made Heath Ritenour a More Relatable Leader

In his early 40s, Heath Ritenour received an unexpected cancer diagnosis in 2015. Because his doctors caught cancer in its early stages, Heath achieved full remission after surgery and chemotherapy.

Many people in Heath Ritenour’s position would have limited the sharing of such personal health information to their closest friends and family. However, he saw it as an opportunity to encourage male employees to schedule routine cancer screenings. Some employees received a similar cancer diagnosis because of it, but like Heath, they had excellent outcomes thanks to the early intervention.

Heath Ritenour feels the most important lesson he took from his cancer battle is that he has to let go of the things he cannot control. Although he could not have known it at the time, this lesson served him well when the coronavirus pandemic arrived five years later.