Ritchie has held the same role with the All England Lawn Tennis Club since 2005 and also holds senior non-executive positions with a number of the UK's leading sporting organisations.
His will now be tasked with rebuilding England Rugby's damaged reputation after the fallout of a disappointing World Cup campaign and will also lead the search for a new permanent team manager or head coach following Martin Johnson's resignation and Stuart Lancaster's temporary appointment.
"The opportunity to lead an organisation which I know has so many dedicated, talented people is one I relish," said Ritchie.
"I believe English rugby has a very bright future, culminating in a home World Cup in 2015. I am determined to help rugby create a legacy from the tournament that will benefit the sport for generations.
"The RFU have great commercial partners and a very sound financial base, underpinning the development of rugby union at grassroots and elite level."
Ritchie's appointment allows the RFU to celebrate a second piece of good news in as many weeks following the promotion of Lancaster, Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell as the England senior side's coaching panel for next year's RBS 6 Nations.
Having come in for plenty of criticism after numerous off-the-field controversies and a leaked report into England's World Cup woes, the RFU now believe they have the man to help them ensure 2012 starts in a far more positive manner than 2011 has ended.
"Ian clearly demonstrated the required knowledge and capabilities across a broad range of areas," said RFU Board Member Ian Metcalfe.
"He was the stand-out candidate with his combination of business acumen, leadership qualities and background in sports administration.
"We could not have wished for a better candidate who is so highly respected across sport and the business sectors."