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Published: May 22, 2018 5 min read
Stacey Cunningham is the first ever female president of the NYSE.
Peter Foley—Bloomberg via Getty Images

When the New York Stock Exchange was founded under a tree in 1792, women in the U.S. couldn't vote, write wills or even have property in their own names. Now, 226 years later, a woman will oversee the NYSE — the largest stock exchange in the world — for the first time.

Intercontinental Exchange, Inc. announced Tuesday that Stacey Cunningham, 43, has been tapped as the next president of the NYSE. Coming from her position as chief operating officer of NYSE Group, Cunningham will be the first female to take on the role. She starts on Friday, according to the Wall Street Journal, and succeeds Thomas Farley.

“As our COO, Stacey Cunningham successfully managed our equities, equities derivatives and ETF businesses, distinguishing herself as a customer-focused leader who is respected across our industry,” Jeff Sprecher, chairman and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange, said in a news release. “More than a half century after Muriel Siebert became the first woman to own a seat on the NYSE, Stacey represents a new generation of leadership for the NYSE Group."

From Intern to President

But Cunningham is not only making history. She also has a seriously impressive backstory.

Her journey dates back to 1994, when she started at the stock exchange as an intern. At the time, she was still in college at Lehigh University studying industrial engineering, and the exchange was struggling to adjust to having women around. Nearly three decades had passed since Siebert bought her seat on the NYSE, but Journal reported that the women's bathroom was still in a converted phone booth.

Despite the challenges, Cunningham fell in love with the atmosphere. Two years later, she became a trading floor clerk — something she credits Siebert with making possible.

“I was a woman trader on the floor, and I never thought about it — I never thought for a moment whether or not that could happen, and whether or not that was an opportunity available to me," Cunningham told The Street earlier this year. "And it's because Muriel paved the way. I think it's just really important to recognize that any time a woman pushes the boundaries and redefines the boundaries, she's redefining them for everyone else that follows her."

In 2005, though, Cunningham's career took a brief detour. She left Wall Street for the Institute of Culinary Education, complete with a stint at the now-closed restaurant Ouest.

She told the Financial Times that working in the kitchen wasn't so different from being on the trading floor, because both gigs required her to multitask and handle mistakes efficiently. According to her LinkedIn page, Cunningham then worked for Nasdaq from 2007 to 2012 before rejoining the NYSE.

“I just don’t think your career is linear,” she told the Times. “I didn’t think it was going to be a problem to take time off, and I didn’t think it was going to be an issue coming back in. I felt like I learnt a lot from my time away. Your skills are transportable.”

The One Day

These days, women at the NYSE are still a rare breed: Just this month, BBC News published an interview with the only female currently working full-time as a broker on the NYSE floor. Cunningham told The Street that she hopes more diversity is coming — and she thinks it starts with telling young girls positive messages about their careers.

In a 2015 speech, she also advised people to choose the right goals. She admitted that she never saw herself ending up on Wall Street, but now she's running things there.

"It just took one day. One day to change my career path. The moment I walked into that building and onto the floor, I just knew it was the place that I belonged at that time," Cunningham said.