Career Insight: Advice from New York Stock Exchange President Stacey Cunningham

by Diana Drake

On that topic of women in leadership roles – a conversation that we sometimes feel we shouldn’t still be having, but simply can’t ignore – Stacey Cunningham was just named the 67th president of the New York Stock Exchange Group on May 25, 2018 and the first woman to lead the NYSE in its 226-year history. Considering Wall Street’s male-dominated culture, this is big news. Following Adena Friedman’s appointment as the first woman CEO of Nasdaq in November 2016, two of the most prominent stock exchanges are now run by women.

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Cunningham began her career as a clerk on the NYSE trading floor in Manhattan in 1996 (after a stint in 1994 as a summer intern on the NYSE floor), left for a time to pursue culinary school, and returned to eventually take the role of chief operating officer of the NYSE Group, which operates equity exchanges including the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE American and NYSE Arca. The New York Stock Exchange is the world’s largest stock exchange with listed companies worth some $21 trillion. As COO, Cunningham managed the NYSE’s equities, equities derivatives and ETF businesses.

Now, as president, Cunningham is charged, in part, with “ensuring that the U.S. remains the center of the world’s capital markets,” according to Jeff Sprecher, CEO of Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), an American holding company that owns the NYSE.

Upon learning of her new position, Cunningham tweeted that the NYSE has “always held a special place in my heart,” adding that she is “humbled and honored to have the opportunity to lead this organization.” Since her internship days, she has learned a thing or two about how to succeed in the workplace. In an interview conducted by Intercontinental Exchange and published on its website, Cunningham and four other top NYSE and ICE women executives, offer the following advice for young businesswomen just getting started in their careers:

“Our skills are more valuable than our experience and the even better news is they’re transferable. Problem solving, strong communication, and teamwork can contribute to success in virtually any role. Focus on honing skills and then don’t be afraid to find new places to apply them.” Stacey Cunningham, president, NYSE Group

“Don’t be afraid to seek a promotion or take on a role that you’re not sure you have the experience to fulfill. As long as you’re willing to work hard, learn everything you can and do your absolute best, you’ll be able to succeed. It would be a mistake not to take the opportunity.” Elizabeth King, general counsel, NYSE

“Believe in yourself; don’t ever give up on your ambitions, even if people doubt your ability to achieve them. Women can do anything men can do. I personally think that success for everyone is extremely linked to how we deal with failures. When something goes wrong, learn from it, ask yourself what you could have done better, take ownership for what you did wrong or could have done better, and then move on. What does not kill you makes you better at what you do.” Hester Serafini, president and COO, ICE Clear U.S.

“Remember these three things throughout your career: hard work always wins the day so be patient, don’t ever be intimidated by someone just because of their seniority, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Those are the keys to success.” Lynn Martin, president and COO, ICE Data Services

 “Getting started is the key, and being fully committed and focused on the goal. Don’t let gender be the determining factor in how you approach your career, rather be intellectually curious, keep learning and use that knowledge to deliver results that make you not only a rising star, but indispensable.” Kelly Loeffler, chief communications and marketing officer, Intercontinental Exchange

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Conversation Starters

People tend to push back when the issue of women in business leadership makes news. They wonder, why is this such a big deal? Explore the concept of gender equity by listening to the definition of this term on the KWHS Video Glossary through the link at the top of the homepage. Then take a minute to review this recent survey: What are your thoughts on women in leadership? Is this a conversation we should still be having? Why or why not?

Hester Sarafini says, “I personally think that success for everyone is extremely linked to how we deal with failures.” What does she mean by this? Why is that so critical to becoming successful?

Who is your favorite woman leader? Why do you consider that person a role model?

4 comments on “Career Insight: Advice from New York Stock Exchange President Stacey Cunningham

  1. I love seeing articles like these. It shows that women can arise to positions of success and fulfillment not only from help externally, but an strong, enthusiastic internal drive.

    I noticed that all of the quotes from the article can apply to anyone — regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, or skin color. The five women featured here each effectively show that success isn’t always compartmentalized into male/female, or black/white, or young/old — it’s an open, universal destination that embodies principles of reward, gratification, and grit, as seen in their quotes and tweets.

    In my opinion, if we can focus less on the divisive gender/sex aspects of corporate success, and more on an individual’s work ethic, drive, and willingness to try new things, then our society will most definitely see the disparity between the two genders come to a near-close. Even better, the inequality in income, promotions, respect, and harassment will have room to automatically equalize, rather than artificially.

    That being said, why don’t we recognize successful male CEOs and executives for being male? Most might say because a male executive is significantly more common than a female in a similar position — and they’re right. However, by showing successful women executives as “women executives”, rather than just regular “executives”, as we do for many male executives and leaders, we’re doing equality a disservice, and whether we know it or not, we’re heading in the wrong direction, in my opinion. Why? Because as we emphasize the “woman” in “woman leader”, we are making “women leaders” seem like they’re a strange new breed, or a whole new category, different from society’s definition of a regular “leader” — which they’re not! I believe that making the term “leader” (or any high-status term, for that matter) applicable and relatable to both genders is the key to making women leaders just about 50% of all the success stories we hear; and this article did a great job of showing that universality of success and hard work.

  2. This article provides an important message that both women and men need to comprehend and act upon. One must set out to do what they want to achieve in life. Because everyone wants to have a job that they will enjoy and make money doing, but in order to obtain that goal one needs to set oneself apart from the others. As Stacey Cunningham explains one must be able to overcome your failures, not matter the gender. When I first started playing softball, my coach always told us “it’s not the mistake you make, it’s what you do after”. I have taken that and applied it to my life and my academics. Having the stress of a high school student you are bound to mess up on an assessment. But, it is one’s own choice whether they allow that one bad mark to define that semester and give up, or if they take what they did wrong and work twice as hard the rest of the semester to make up for it. The same applies when taking a risk; that chance can end up working in one’s favor or against them. One will never know until they’ve done it because hindsight is 20 20. Everyone should shoot for their goals, but this seems exceptionally hard for women today.

    Despite being in the 21st century, there are people in today’s world that still fail to recognize the role that women play in our society. Others believe that women are too emotional or not “strong” enough to handle the jobs that men have. Even in small towns such as the one I grew up in. In my town the football team is praised while all the girls’ sports are left to fend for themselves. The football team received funding to get new uniforms every two years while the softball team was stuck with uniforms from 10 years ago. I had always joked that I would tryout for the football team just to prove that a girl could play just as well. However, the people in my town had a different opinion. They couldn’t prevent a girl from trying out, but the coach said that he wouldn’t play any girls despite them being better players than the guys. I ended up attending an all girls school, but the issue still infuriated me. From a young age our society is instilling into children that men are superior, which is not the case. This problem should not exist now and both women and MEN need to continue to fight for more equality in the work force for the future aspiring female workers of the world.

    • Hi Katherine. I loved reading about your experience with the football team in your town. It sounds like the strong biases that you faced motivated you to think very deeply about the issue of equality. And you’re so right, this is not just a problem that women must fight to fix…men need to be part of the conversation and the change! Good luck!

  3. As I stood in the ring, with my tears and sweat running like a river, my ears ringing from the three head kicks my opponent successfully made and my breathing labored from the powerful chest kicks inflicted, my Taekwondo Master quietly looked at me. Master Alex placed his hands on my shoulder, came close to my face and simply said “Losing is a gift”. Really, I thought!!! Suggesting that failing at my fourth USA National title in the first round is equal to a beautiful shiny, ribbon wrapped present, was incomprehensible!! Four years of taekwondo, twelve months of training nearly 5 times a week, the pain in my hips and ankles from twisting and kicking, the cost to my parents in travelling and accommodation, just to see it end in 3 minutes. This was torture not a gift.

    Hester Sarafani’s comment that success is linked to failure resonates with me and I believe it to be the one of the key ingredients of leadership and what motivates me. The other ingredient is resilience. I recently read Professor Carol Dweck’s book Mindset – the new psychology of success. Her book studies the impact of a growth mindset. Professor Dweck has discovered that resilience has a powerful impact on achievement and success and that the factors that impact our tenacity is belief in ourselves, having goals and self-regulatory skills. Successful leaders view a challenge or failure as an opportunity to learn rather than an obstacle to overcome.

    So, as I contemplated quitting after my nationals, clearly without a growth mindset but an emotional, defeatist attitude, I started to reflect. Did I work hard? – the answer was yes. Was I disciplined? – yes. Did I have a positive attitude? – yes again. Finally, was I quitter?– absolutely not!

    Lynn Martin in the article notes that hard work always wins the day so be patient. Was I patient? – no! Success in the workplace, in sports, at school – does not happen immediately. CEO’s are not made overnight. They develop skills, build on the skills, continue to learn and take calculated risks. Lynn Martin further highlights that one should not be intimidated or be afraid to ask advice.

    My approach to training changed in my 5th year. I asked to train with the black belts (males and females), I stayed back with my coach to analyze what parts of my game needed to change (explosive versus defensive). I took ownership as Hester Serafini suggests in the article and worked on what I could do better. I also unknowingly applied Professor Dweck’s growth mindset and used my resilience to grow and learn.

    Now we fast forward a year later to the USA Nationals in Chicago, and I entered the rink not focusing on the result but applying the skills to win. Lo and behold, I won 3 games and was fighting for a gold or silver medal in the red belt division. It took 5 years, but I finally began winning matches and the icing on the cake was the silver medal. I have never shed a competitive tear again and have learned to take complete ownership of failure.

    Failing is a challenge and learning to be positive and patient will deliver results and ultimately success. As females, we can succeed in any workplace, if we have the belief, the skills, the tenacity and view setbacks as problems that can be solved. A growth mindset is a powerful tool.

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