Position vacant: must have financial market expertise, strong people skills and a squeaky clean reputation. Running Hong Kong's stock exchange would seem the kind of job to top off any successful banking or finance career. Yet despite a hefty salary package and lots of perks, applicants do not seem to be queuing up outside Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEx). That is a shame, since the position of HKEx chief executive is crucial for Hong Kong's development as an international finance centre. Kwong Ki-chi departs in April. History is likely to award him mixed marks for stewarding the exchange from a private members' club to a public body. His successor faces critical decisions if Hong Kong is to win promotion to top-tier market status. Reform of a market's codes, and perhaps more importantly its culture, depends on more than one spirited individual. Commitment at the highest levels of government to tackling vested interests is vital. Nevertheless, the future chief executive will play a pivotal role in dictating the agenda and driving change. That person must have a strong financial market background and be respected by market players at home and abroad. They need a clear vision of what a modernised Hong Kong market might look like and an ability to sell the message. Mediating between warring special interests goes with the territory. Hong Kong's financial evolution is at a crucial juncture. Recent decisions to roll back on corporate governance reforms suggest there is little stomach for change within the market and among the corporate elite who benefit from rules that all too often are flouted with impunity. Most importantly, the exchange boss must be seen as lacking attachment to either professional or corporate interests. A candidate perceived to be beholden to a particular group will be compromised; their motives will be second-guessed and Hong Kong's reputation will suffer. In such a job, the importance of a strong reputation cannot be overstated. The successful candidate should have no obvious skeletons in the cupboard and be recognised for integrity in the international finance community and on the mainland, where much of their work will be concentrated. Such people are not easy to find. Yet in the right environment, running the exchange through a period of such growth should offer tremendous job satisfaction. The apparent dearth of willing candidates is rooted in a widespread belief that the job is a poisoned chalice, due to the lack of leadership from the government on tackling market reform. It is hard to believe that Hong Kong cannot find someone who, given a clear mandate, can, without fear or favour, lead the exchange to a better future.