A New Kind Of Leadership: David S. Pottruck, C’70, WG’72

In 1984, David Pottruck, a young and aggressive ex-Penn wrestler and football player, was frustrated with his traditional job at Shearson American Express in New York. A slightly older aggressive guy named Charles Schwab asked him to come across the country and be the head of marketing for a new kind of financial services firm Schwab had in San Francisco. Pottruck said he was up for the challenge.

Together, Pottruck and Schwab set a new tone and built up that new kind of financial services business that became a standard in the industry. Pottruck and Schwab became the Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside of the online stock trading revolution. Schwab, whose name was on the firm, was the face the public saw in commercials and on the talk shows. Pottruck, a driven businessman, designed the strategies and put people in place to perform.

By the early 1990s, when the online boom burgeoned, Charles Schwab Inc. was in place to take full advantage of it. Pottruck realized that there was a good segment of the market that wanted barebones services. Not everyone wanted research and hand-holding — many people thought they could choose investments themselves and merely needed someone to do the actual trades for them. Pottruck gave them that.

Pottruck also was the progenitor of San Francisco-style corporate management. In the mid-1990s, he came to realize that his brasher, tough-guy style was wearing thin on the hard-working but laid-back Northern California business environment. Unlike other headstrong executives, he sought help in life-coaching. He transformed himself into a more empathetic manager, and, as such, influenced the way the upcoming technology businesses in California managed employees and customers. He and Schwab were co-CEOs for five years until 2004. By merging their clashing styles, they built their company into one that held more than a trillion dollars in customer assets.

Chairman of Eos Airlines, in 2006 Pottruck took the reigns as CEO to take the carrier from startup to a significant new breed of transatlantic premium carrier. A former Penn trustee, he is currently an Overseer for Wharton and Penn Athletics and chair of Wharton West’s Advisory Board. A frequent guest lecturer at Wharton, he is the namesake of Penn’s David S. Pottruck Health and Fitness Center.

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