IT did not take Zhang Guoqing much effort to make the switch from a market regulator to market practitioner. In both roles, he has watched the stock market like a hawk. Whereas the J&A Securities managing director once had to take the 'helicopter view' of a market watchdog, Mr Zhang is now focused on turning J&A into a brokerage to be reckoned with at home and abroad. 'I want J&A Securities to become a better, but not necessarily the biggest, brokerage in China,' he said. Mr Zhang, 40, was educated at the University of Wuhan. He left his home town in Henan province for Hubei province. After more than 10 years there with the People's Bank of China (PBOC) he took charge of the bank's securities department in Shenzhen in the late 1980s. He chose to become a businessman instead of a regulator because 'there are many regulators in China, but inadequate well-backed brokerages to support the market's growth'. Regarded as decisive and bold in his style of business, Mr Zhang has made J&A Shenzhen's most rapidly-growing brokerage since its formation late in 1992. Last year, J&A topped the country's list for A share trades and is pushing to match the volumes traded by big brokerages like Shanghai International Securities Co. Mr Zhang's ambition has spread to other parts of China. He has set up 20 branches for stock trading and underwriting with a staff of more than 1,000, and an office in Hong Kong. His opportunistic business style appeals to many. 'Adventurous businessmen are rare animals in Shenzhen these days, and Zhang is one of them,' said a Shenzhen analyst. 'Not many government officials have the daring to do business, and he is among the few that have met with success in both areas,' he said. Another analyst said: 'He has the courage of a businessman, and he is good at taking advantage of opportunities.' His launch of a shareholders revolt against Shenzhen-listed China Vanke in response to concerns about the firm's business rationale last year earned him a favourable reputation in China's securities market, despite worries over the act's legality. The revolt, which was the first time shareholders in China publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the performance of a listed company, caused widespread debate over the protection of mainland minority shareholders' interests. Yet Mr Zhang said it would be years before the interests of minority shareholders were properly protected. 'Currently, there are no regulations about the protection of minority shareholders' interests in China, and such a concept has not been developed in any way,' he said. J&A's creation of derivatives products also opens investment avenues. 'He has contributed technically to the market's development. The creation of J&A's treasury bond certificate is an example,' an analyst said. J&A collects treasury bond certificates from bond-holders and returns them after time with additional returns on yields. The certificates are listed on the Shenzhen stock exchange. Along with the praise, Mr Zhang is not immune to criticism. One analyst said his boldness might leave him exposed in the event of market depression. 'If it is a booming market, he will make good money. But if the market goes in the opposite direction, he will suffer more than anyone.' The analyst said J&A's small capital base of 100 million yuan (HK$93 million) might not be able to support swelling operations of eight billion yuan in total assets. 'For the average non-bank financial institution in the mainland, its total assets should be around three to five times its capital base, although it depends on how much debt it has,' the analyst said. The analyst said J&A's rapid growth could hinder the company's progress, as China's stock market enters a phase where stabilisation is more important than rapid growth. The significance of standardisation, for example, was underscored by the bond scandal earlier this year that hit China's then biggest brokerage, Shanghai International Securities Co, when it out-ran its capabilities in bond futures trading. To address the problem, J&A is seeking to enlarge its share capital from 100 million yuan to a massive 1.2 billion yuan, for which it filed an application to the PBOC early this year. Mr Zhang played down his previous connections with the PBOC, saying that the firm's sound track record was the only basis of assessment. 'Our record is here for them [PBOC] to check,' he said. In the first nine months of this year, J&A had a market share of five per cent in total stock trades in China, according to Mr Zhang. It also secured more than 10 underwriting mandates for A shares and three for B shares. Shenzhen's lacklustre stock market has forced the older, and the more conservative brokerages to take a back seat in the absence of government support. And just when Shenzhen's city government plans to bolster domestic brokerages to revive its struggling market, Mr Zhang is steering his business empire to Shanghai for shelter in the event of a downturn in Shenzhen. 'This enables us to catch up quickly in the Shanghai market if Shenzhen's continues to [struggle],' he said. 'If the worst comes to the worst, we'll move our business up to Shanghai.' The brokerage moved its headquarters to Shanghai this year for faster and easier handling of its business there. 'Of the non-local brokerages operating in Shanghai, J&A takes the top position in underwriting activity, having sponsored four companies to list in Shanghai,' Mr Zhang said. The move is matched by companies increasingly favouring listing in Shanghai rather than Shenzhen. All the 10-plus A-share underwriting mandates secured by the brokerages this year have opted to list in Shanghai. 'It's an embarrassment for Shenzhen, as all the companies are reluctant to come here,' he said. Although Mr Zhang refused to be pinned down on Shenzhen's market outlook, his prompt departure from Shenzhen spoke for itself. 'It's difficult to say how Shenzhen will fare. It all depends on how the market will develop,' he said. 'As a brokerage, I can't do much to help. It's all to do with the Government.'