Catherine Kinney, the former president and co-COO of the New York Stock Exchange, recently shared her leadership experiences with students as part of the School’s David and Lyn Silfen Leadership Series.
A French major at Iona College, where she graduated magna cum laude, Kinney joined the stock exchange in 1974 with little knowledge of finance. Yet on her first tour of the floor, she recalled that she fell in love with the place. “The energy was palpable,” Kinney said.
Over the years, she held a number of management positions, accumulating important lessons along the way. In her talk with students at the School, she emphasized five: the need to take risks, the importance of being able to size up others (who has integrity, who you can trust), the value of communication, the ability to be resilient in the face of setbacks, and the wherewithal to see your own value and the value of those around you.
On risk, Kinney told the story of her promotion in the mid-1980s to senior vice president of operations. At first, she said, she was hesitant to take the job. Where she had previously managed roughly 15 people, in the new role she would be charged with overseeing 800. “I thought, ’I don’t think I can do this job,’” she said. Yet, in the end, she stepped out of her comfort zone and didn’t look back.
As a leader, Kinney felt she had to prove herself worthy of being followed, to convince her staff that the best way to succeed was for all to get on board. “To be a leader, you have to bring people along with you,” she said. “You can’t do every job yourself.” Communication was key to that end. “I don’t think you can over-communicate,” Kinney said.
In her speech, Kinney talked about balancing hard work with a life outside the office — supportive friends, family, and other interests — and of being a woman in a field historically dominated by men. When she started at the stock exchange, she said, there were only two other women on the floor. Yet Kinney thought of the disparity as an advantage, as something that set her apart. “For the women in the audience,” she said, “I say, ’confidence, confidence, confidence.’”
The David and Lyn Silfen Leadership Series is a unique partnership between students and top executives. The program attracts renowned business leaders from around the world to the School to provide a forum for students to exchange thoughts and ideas with the most important people in business today.