Alexa Lam knows better than most that life is a series of highs and lows. For 14 years, she has navigated through the volatility and crises of Hong Kong's rollercoaster stock market, attempting to protect the city's investors.

It has not been skirmish-free. The deputy CEO of the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) once famously incurred the wrath of Hong Kong's male-dominated brokerage sector when she attempted to curb risky margin financing.

Friends and colleagues explain that for Lam, this is something she realises just goes with the territory, with her choice of career unlikely to win her too many friends in the finance sector in the first place.

Lam joined the SFC in 1998, being appointed to the board as an executive director just three years later. She remains an executive director today, in charge of its policy, China and investment products division. She is the only female executive director.

For a brief period last year, she acted as interim CEO, a position many believed she would eventually fill. However, the position went to former colleague Ashley Alder.

Lam started her career as a solicitor in Hong Kong, becoming a partner at Kao, Lee & Yip, which took her to New York and Chicago until April 1997, when she switched to academia and worked as a visiting lecturer at the University of Hong Kong.

On joining the SFC, she was senior adviser to the chairman until 1999 when she was appointed chief counsel. In March 2001, she became an executive director.

Her present role involves developing SFC policy and regulating the market for retail investment products.

Those who know her describe Lam as a determined individual who is not afraid of a fight and dedicated to her career.

With a volatile stock market comes many highs and lows - one of Hong Kong's lowest points being the Asian financial crisis of 1997 that claimed many a financial scalp. Lam was credited with tightening margin finance in 2003 in the wake of the 1998 collapse of a brokerage, CA Pacific Securities, with HK$983 million in losses. In the process, she did not score many popularity points among the brokerage sector.

Lam believes what should be important to women is not how others see them.

"They have to believe in themselves," Lam told Community Business in its 2005 report entitled "Women Leaders in Hong Kong". "They should not put themselves down because they are female. Just look at yourself as a person, not a woman, have confidence in yourself and believe in what you are doing, and most important of all is you have to work hard because nothing comes to those who don't work hard.

"And if you sense there is discrimination, just ride over it. In Hong Kong, the situation is a lot fairer and there are sufficient people who don't have a problem with women."