In this episode of Talks at GS, Stacey Cunningham discusses her journey at the NYSE from one-time intern to its first female president and her efforts to bring innovation and efficiency to the NYSE during a time of evolution in the marketplace.
Stacey Cunningham: President Of The NYSE Group
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I am Suzy Shaw co head of the global financing group, Stacey Cunningham is the president New York Stock Exchange. She has just passed her one year anniversary on the job. Let's talk about your early career. You were at Lehigh as an intern in 1994. What initially drew you to working on the stock exchange and back in 1994 or like women weren't stumbling onto the floor of the stock exchange. So how did you end up there?
So I will say that nothing absolutely nothing drew me to working on the trading floor other than I didn't have a summer job. So I was studying engineering and school and I always liked math and science and always found that interesting. So I went I went that direction and I liked engineering and I was enjoying the courses and stuff. But I was I was a poor planner. I guess I would say at that stage in my life and so I didn't have a summer job lined up and I started looking later and I was trying get a job waitressing and nobody would hire me because I don't have any waitressing experience. And I think it's their mistake frankly because I would have been a fantastic waitress. I mean I really think I would have been good at that. But but they they wouldn't take a chance on me. So I threw me my father had been in the business and he was a trader's institutional block trader but he never talked about work. So I had no knowledge of what he did for a living or how it worked and he said well maybe I can see if I know somebody who can help get an internship. So it's sort of that stereotypical you know summer job on the trading floor. And I went down there and literally within 15 minutes as if this is the coolest place in the world. Like I just loved it. I loved the energy and the pace. And so I went back and finish my degree and then started full time on the floor after that.
So you returned as a floor clerk and at the time and in many ways still today trading floor it's a male dominated area. What did you experience as the advantages and disadvantages of being one of only a few dozen women on the floor and I bet you it was even even less than that. I bet you've felt pretty pretty alone down there.
Yeah I didn't notice it so much. You know I it's been something about me in my life that I just never really noticed my gender. I just didn't think about it. So when I got to the floor yes I knew I was outnumbered but I didn't really think much about it. And frankly there are pros and cons. You know you had I had a much higher profile on the trading floor as a woman and there were a handful of women down there that I that I worked with and they gave me some of the tips on on what it's like to be a woman on the trading floor. But I think it worked to my advantage frankly at a lot of times because I had people who knew me and recognized me and helped me learn and they were excited. You know I got a little bit of extra credit just for liking the trading floor as a woman because it wasn't a place that a lot of women wanted to work so it always worked out my favor and I think that's important. If you think about just leveraging whatever there is to your benefit you know there are times where it'll be challenging when you're outnumbered like that but if there's a there are times where it can be used to your advantage take advantage of it.
But you nobody ever forgot who you were called you Bill.
You know they called me the girl the girl. Yeah. So when people say hey you must have had a lot of luck I think I tuned a lot out what it was like. What does the girl think. But you know I think one of the things that I took away from it was that there was while it didn't come out in their words there was a lot of respect for me.
And that was what was most important to me is I wanted to be respected and I respected the people around me. And I always made it clear that they had to respect me. So I always drew boundaries what was OK what wasn't OK. And I always found that if you draw clear boundaries people usually abide by them.
So you worked your way up the exchange. She'd been doing it for you know call it nine or 10 years and then in 2005 you took a detour and enrolled in culinary school. Talk to us about that move. What was going on in your mind at the time. Tell us a little bit about it but try not to make me hungry.
Yeah I'll tell you what was going on in my mind. I like to eat so I like food I've always liked food I've always liked to eat. And so when I thought about time to eat you know it being time to make a career change. I didn't really think I was going to go into culinary arts and work in a restaurant full time but I knew I was going to always like to eat. And so I thought that would be a skill it'd be fun to have if you read a lot of the media attention that I've gotten over the past year as I'd left Wall Street to become a chef and then came back to her calling you know I just wanted to go be a better cook and so I did that for a little bit of time and I enjoyed it. And I was shocked by how similar working in a kitchen was to working on a trading floor there. There are a lot of aspects of it the communication style is very direct. The pace is very quick. You don't have time to really work through whose fault something is if something goes wrong. You just need to fix it and move on and I think those are all skills that that translate. And there is a somewhat twisted sense of humor that seems seems tolerated in those places too. So there was a lot of a lot of similarities between the you know working on it and trading.