13 Sep 3 Reasons Why Pepper Potts Is the Best CEO Ever
Brace yourselves, because I’m about to give my opinion on something, and you may disagree so strongly that you’ll want to send the Hulk after me.
Iron Man is not my favorite Avenger.
Tony Stark obviously provides great comic relief (case in point: “Is no one going to comment that the Cap just said ‘language’?”). And I appreciate that he relies on his intellect to fight crime rather than the after-effects of falling into a vat of toxic waste. However, I prefer my superheroes a little less cocky, a little more humble. I’ll take cute family man Hawkeye over Tony’s wit and Thor’s beautiful biceps any day. Judge me if you must.
Still, I think the Iron Man films are delightful and among the best of the Marvel franchise, which is due in large part to the woman behind the superhero: Pepper Potts. Pepper Potts starts out as Tony Stark’s assistant, and as you may remember as she escorts Tony’s latest one-night stand from the mansion, Pepper “does anything and everything Mr. Stark requires, including occasionally taking out the trash.”
Thankfully, Pepper Potts becomes much more than an attractive Igor to Stark’s Dr. Frankenstein. When Tony thinks he may die of palladium poisoning, he promotes Pepper as CEO of Stark Enterprises, where she becomes an inspiration to all budding business leaders.
How so? Read through the following traits that make Pepper Potts a successful CEO—and see how you can use the same principles to further your own career.
1. She Tells It Like It Is
Tony Stark needs a woman who will match his wit, and if this movie franchise insists on making Tony and Pepper Potts a couple, it’s a good thing that Pepper always stands up for herself. She tells him off when he’s being a jerk. She questions his intentions when she thinks he might run the company (or his life) into the ground.
In a Forbes post, Joel Trammell explains that successful CEOs follow three C’s: credibility, competence, and caring. As part of having credibility, Trammell says, “When you communicate, do people believe that you are telling them the objective truth? …To maintain credibility you have to tell the truth 100 percent of the time.”
Pepper Potts is always straightforward and truthful but kind. As a CEO, you have to be honest and transparent with your employees, even when you have negative information to share, or else they will not follow your instruction and vision.
2. Knows Every Facet of the Business—and of Tony Stark’s Life
Pepper was a natural choice to promote to CEO because she had already been managing Tony Stark’s affairs—and thus Stark Industries—for years. Take the following scene, where Pepper gets nervous during a party, and Tony jokes that he could fire her to “take the edge off”:
Pepper Potts: I don’t think you could tie your shoes without me.
Tony Stark: I’d make it a week.
Pepper: A week, really? What’s your social security number?
Tony [after a long pause]: Five.
Pepper [smiling]: Five? You’re missing just a couple of digits.
Tony: Right, the other eight. Well, I have you for the other eight.
Most CEOs don’t know every single thing related to their companies—they would go insane. However, a great CEO should have a deep understanding of the business’s goal and its product. Unless you have the right expertise, your employees cannot have confidence in your ability to lead them. From there, learn more from your employees about their pain points or the way they complete work before making major company changes.
3. Saves Herself
Although the Pepper Potts of comic books leads a more impressive life, the film version of Pepper Potts doesn’t just sit on the sidelines as the damsel in distress.
In Iron Man 3, Pepper saves Tony’s life and her own on two occasions. First, she dons an Iron Man suit to protect Tony during an attack from the Mandarin. Then the real villain, Killian, nearly kills Pepper by subjecting her to his Extremis procedure. Although the film gives her several opportunities to die, Pepper ultimately gains superpowers from the procedure and kills Killian.
Okay, so business leaders usually don’t have to put their lives on the line. But it is a CEO’s responsibility to act when disaster strikes and keep the company afloat. Since you are the person who sees the larger picture and goals of the company, you can decide when things need to change and instruct your employees on what to do.
Plus, Maybe Tony Stark Wasn’t Such a Bad CEO Himself
While writing this blog, I’ve thought a lot about Iron Man, too. Tony Stark exhibits a lot of traits that I’m sure made him difficult to work with. He throws himself into his work—but only the projects he cares about most. He thinks he’s always right. But one of his better traits is that he always trusts his assistant-turned-CEO.
Going back to the first Iron Man film, Tony asks Pepper to remove a wire from his chest. Not surprisingly, Pepper finds this request disturbing and nerve-racking:
Pepper Potts: I… uh… I don’t think that I’m qualified to do that.
Tony Stark: No, no. You’re fine. You are the most capable, qualified, trustworthy person I’ve ever met. You’ll do great. Is it too much to ask? Because I really need your help here.
That’s the attitude CEOs need. They should strive to improve and develop positive traits, but ultimately, a company will only be as good as all the people who work there—not just its leader. A CEO should choose employees he or she can trust and then encourage them to do their jobs well.
Become an Avenger
Maybe you’re already leading a company, or maybe you’re on a path to become CEO one day. (Or maybe you’re just here because you like superheroes. I don’t blame you.) Consider these traits, strengthen your own best qualities, and become a superhero in your industry.
Are you leading your company, or hoping to lead a company, in the manner of Pepper Potts? Or does a different Marvel character better match your business style? Let us know in the comments.