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NYSE’s First Female President Says of Her Success: “It’s Not About Climbing a Ladder”

January 23, 2019, 5:25 PM UTC

Stacey Cunningham made Wall Street history when she was tapped as the first female President of the New York Stock Exchange in its 226 years. How did she rise to the top of this iconic, male-dominated institution?

“It’s not about climbing a ladder,” she tells Fortune. “It’s about what skills you have.”

When she mentors young women—and men—she tells them to “focus on your skills” whether it’s “working in a kitchen, working on a trading floor, running a household.” If you do that, she advises, “You can go do anything.”

Cunningham speaks from her own career experience. Her path to the top of the Big Board was unconventional. She started as a summer intern working at the NYSE in the 1990s and later as a floor trader. She took time off to become a chef, then a brief stint working at the Nasdaq. She returned to the NYSE in 2012 and was promoted to Chief Operating Officer in 2015. Now as the head of the world’s largest stock exchange, she is the most senior woman in the U.S. financial sector.

Looking back on that pathway, Cunningham, now 44 years old, says of her success, “Your career does not need to be linear.”

Watch the video above for more of my interview with Cunningham.