The WFE's Women Leaders 2020 - Stacey Cunningham, President, New York Stock Exchange (NYSE)

By: The WFE Focus Team Mar 2020

1. Can you tell us about your work experience journey? Has it been a linear path to reach your current position?

My career path was more of a jungle gym than a corporate ladder or linear path. While studying civil engineering at Lehigh University, I started a summer internship on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. That experience completely redefined my path and sent me in a different direction. I decided to finish my degree in industrial engineering and then started my career at a trading firm on the floor of the NYSE as a specialist, or market maker, in some of the companies listed on the NYSE.

After 10 years on the trading floor, I knew it was time for me to make a change but I wasn’t yet sure where I wanted to head. I took some time to reflect and decided to attend culinary school. I’ve always had a passion for food and knew it would never be a wasted skill.

After culinary school, I wanted to get back to work in the financial markets. I worked in client-facing positions at another exchange for a few years then, in 2012, returned to the NYSE in a corporate role. About ten days after starting this new job, it was announced the NYSE would be acquired by Intercontinental Exchange, initiating a period of significant transformation for the exchange. I took this as an opportunity to help drive change and play a part in reinventing a centuries-old institution.

Periods of change often hold the most opportunity, and it was during this time that I was named Chief Operating Officer at the NYSE. I oversaw operations of all NYSE Group exchanges in this role, enabling me to draw upon my engineering background and years of experience as a trader.

2. Have you worked with any mentors or coaches during your career? And do you mentor or coach anyone at the moment? 

I’ve been fortunate to work with strong mentors and sponsors in my career, so I believe in the positive impact of these relationships. There are two pieces of advice I offer when asked about the best way to find a mentor or sponsor. First, both mentorship and sponsorship are most effective when they are organic. Sponsors tend to find you. Focus on how you can be helpful to drive success for the organisation overall and strong leaders will want to give you more responsibility and see you succeed. This sense of shared success drives exceptional performance for both employees and organisations as a whole.

Second, don’t discount the value of moments of mentorship. In addition to finding a long-term mentor, ask colleagues you respect for guidance as you navigate particular issues. This helps you develop organic relationships with advocates across your organisation.

3. Who is your most important role model?

It might be more interesting to tell you about who wasn’t my role model: Muriel Siebert, the first female member of the New York Stock Exchange. Muriel had a significant impact on my career long before I even knew her name. In 1967, she became the first woman to own a seat in the then-175-year history of the NYSE, breaking a significant glass ceiling in the finance industry. Muriel paved the way for every other woman who walked onto the NYSE trading floor after her, including me.

When I started my career, I didn’t know who Muriel Siebert was. But I knew that I didn’t have think twice about being a woman at the exchange. I was able to focus on my job and learn the ins and outs of the financial markets. For that, I have Muriel to thank. I’m grateful for her trailblazing spirit and am proud to continue to walk in her footsteps at the NYSE today.

4. How did you know you wanted to work for an exchange or CCP? Was this always a career aspiration? 

I didn’t know I wanted to work at an exchange until I stepped onto the New York Stock Exchange trading floor at the start of my internship. The energy and fast-paced nature drew me in immediately and inspired me to pursue a career in financial markets. Over time, my interests shifted from the day-to-day excitement of being a trader to focusing on market operations more broadly. I became specifically interested in how the NYSE was incorporating technology because I had seen a lot of room for growth during my time on the floor. So, when I took the role of Chief Operating Officer of the NYSE, I spearheaded a re-platforming of the exchange’s operations onto NYSE Pillar, a state-of-the-art integrated trading platform.

5. What advice would you give to other women who want to develop their careers and gain leadership positions in financial services firms?

I encourage women to consider that their career paths don’t have to be linear in order to achieve success. Skills and experience have more than one application and can help you thrive in a variety of fields. I feel that women are often more hesitant than men to take new roles or higher positions because they don’t believe they have the necessary experience. Instead of focusing on an exact career path, focus on building a deep toolkit so that you have the confidence and ability to tackle any job that comes your way.