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First Female NYSE President on Trailblazing the Trading Floor

Event Recaps | Nov 08, 2019 |

In 2018, Stacey Cunningham made history when she became the first female president of the NYSE Group in its 227-year history.

Doreen Mogavero also made history in the financial services arena nearly four decades ago when she became the 12th female member of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), and later when she founded the first woman-owned and women-run brokerage firm in New York City.

On Wednesday, October 30, the pair took to the stage of the Gabelli School’s McNally Amphitheater for a candid discussion about their experiences working their way up in a historically male-dominated industry, and how the NYSE has evolved, while its mission has remained the same.

From Engineering to the Trading Floor

Mogavero interviewed the NYSE president, beginning with a question about how Cunningham landed in her current post.

“I might say accidentally,” she joked, adding that she studied engineering in college and knew little about the financial markets. However, a summer internship on the NYSE changed everything. “At first, I looked at it like it was just a summer job, but that changed about 15 minutes in,” she said. “I fell in love with the trading floor and the pace and the energy and sense of community.”

Cunningham became a specialist on the trading floor, then moved over to Nasdaq before joining the NYSE, where she headed up sales and relationship management and later, NYSE Governance Services before she was appointed COO. In 2018, she became the 67th president of NYSE Group.

Noting her own background in engineering, Cunningham advised students in the audience to focus on what interests them because most skills are easily transferable field to field. She added that being one of few women on the trading floor was an advantage rather than an obstacle, because having a different perspective, whether it’s due to gender or life experience, makes employees more valuable. “As a manager and a leader, building a team of diversity of thought is critical,” she said.

One Mission for More Than Two Centuries

Doreen Mogavero agreed that being a woman was an asset in her own career. She started out on Wall Street as the clerk on the American Stock Exchange in 1975, later served as a member of the New York Futures Exchange, and then founded Mogavero, Lee & Co., Inc., the first floor-based, direct access firm to be wholly owned and operated by women.

About the NYSE, Mogavero and Cunningham noted that despite its evolution—from sealing deals with a handshake in the early years to the advanced technology that uses algorithms for trades today—it’s mission has remained the same: to help companies raise money so they can change the world.

“If you think back, that’s played a role in the growth of this nation,” Cunningham said. “In 1792, the NYSE was founded, and for the next 200 years, our national government and capital markets were the engines that powered the growth of this country.”

Direct Listings: A New Frontier

One new trend Cunningham and Mogavero discussed, is direct listings of private companies on the NYSE. Unlike the traditional IPO process, companies can list shares directly without raising new capital and without paying underwriting fees. Shareholders benefit from the liquidity, and investors can buy shares on the market without going through the underwriter.

“We had a trailblazer, Barry McCarthy, CFO of Spotify, who said ‘Why would I have to go to a bank and have them sell more shares of my company when I don’t need money, I just want to be public?’” Cunningham explained. “He brought that idea to the NYSE in 2016, and for the next year and a half, the NYSE worked with the SEC and Spotify’s lawyers to sort it out. In April 2018, Spotify went public by way of a direct listing.

“While it took a long time, we got to the right place,” Cunningham said. Since then, a technology company called Slack went public with a direct listing, which Cunningham said was the “third-largest trade of all time.” The model has attracted a lot of attention as a solution for companies that have different goals than in the past.

The event, sponsored by the Gabelli Center for Global Security Analysis, drew a near-capacity crowd. “It was a great opportunity for the students to learn about the NYSE and its central role in the orderly functioning of the equity capital markets in the U.S.,” said the Center’s Director James Russell Kelly. “Stacey is also a great role model for our students.”

Gabelli School junior Chirayu Shah, who attended the talk, was inspired by Cunningham’s rise to the top. “She showed how important it is to do what you are passionate about,” said Shah, who hopes to be CEO of a company someday. He asked Cunningham for her advice: “She said to do what you enjoy and read Bill McDermott’s Winners Dream: A Journey from Corner Store to Corner Office.”

Laura Rittenhouse, CEO of Rittenhouse Rankings & founder of Candor Analytics, who introduced the speakers, said that it is important to hear from leaders like Cunningham and Mogavero, considering that participation by women in the financial system is “underwhelming. Today, women and diverse-owned investment funds make up only 3 percent of all U.S. investment funds and control only 1 percent of assets under management,” she said. “Stacey and Doreen show us that hard work, smarts, and a passion for the markets can put women in places where they can change history.”

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