May 22 (UPI) -- Stacey Cunningham, the first woman to become president of the New York Stock Exchange, said she fell in love with the floor on her first visit, while a college intern.
On Friday Cunningham will become the 67th president of the NYSE, the first woman to hold the position in the NYSE's 226-year history.
"Since the moment I first stepped onto the trading floor over 20 years ago, the NYSE has always held a special place in my heart," Cunningham tweeted Tuesday. "I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to lead this organization."
Cunningham, 43, earned a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering from Lehigh University. Cunningham began her career on the ground floor of the NYSE as a summer intern in 1994 when the profession was still dominated by men.
She told the Financial Times last year she "fell in love" with the floor during her internship.
"As soon as I walked out there I thought, this is what I want to do," Cunningham said.
Just two years later, Cunningham started working as a floor clerk on the NYSE trading floor.
Cunningham served as director of capital markets for NASDAQ, as a vice president at Banc of America, president of NYSE Governance Services and NYSE Chief Operating Officer.
In 2005, Cunningham took a break from the stock exchange and enrolled in a nine-month program at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. She said the six weeks of restaurant training wasn't much different from the trading floor.
"Things that would not be OK in really any other place tend to be OK on the trading floor and in the restaurant kitchen," Cunningham told FT, adding she still uses the communication skills she learned from working in a kitchen in her current job.
"When you work in a kitchen, you have to communicate well," Cunningham said. "You are trying to meet deadlines that are almost impossible at times. You need to be concise and direct -- those are communication skills that I find useful in my day-to-day work now."
Cunningham's appointment is historic, as it wasn't until 1967 that Muriel Siebert became the first woman to get a seat for trading on the stock exchange floor -- only after nine men turned down her request for sponsorship.
In 2002, Catherine Kinney became the NYSE's first woman co-president, a role that wasn't as powerful as it is now because the real boss of the exchange was the CEO or chairman.
Cunningham's promotion comes as the number of women in CEO positions has dropped from last year.
Fortune reported Monday that the 2017 rankings had 24 women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, down from 32 in 2016. Of S&P 500 leaders in 2017, only 25 were women, down from 26 in 2016.
When comparing the salaries of the top paid women with the top paid men, the highest-paid female CEO of 2017, Margaret Georgiadis, who ran Mattel from February 2017 to April 2018, earned $31.3 million. That's one-third of what Hock Tan of Broadcom made in 2017.
"There are very few women in finance and technology," Cunningham told CNBC. "It's a male-dominated environment."
Cunningham said she hoped NYSE's owner, Intercontinental Exchange, which has employed several women in top positions, could set an example for others.
"If you prioritize diversity of thought, you're going to find that you have a diversified team that sits there."
Since the moment I stepped onto the trading floor, the @NYSE has always held a special place in my heart. I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to lead this organization. pic.twitter.com/600GP34hZe- Stacey Cunningham (@stacey_cunning) May 22, 2018