Ding Shuipo, the founder and chairman of listing candidate Xtep International Holdings, a Fujian-based sportswear manufacturer, seems to have been born with the right genes for a successful entrepreneur. The 38-year-old from Jinjiang, Fujian province, which is the birthplace of many self-made entrepreneurs, started a shoe business with his savings. He made a fortune after the fall of the Soviet Union and built his own brand to focus on the domestic market in 2000 at a time when consumer spending power was just beginning to take off. 'When there's opportunity, you have to try your best to seize it,' Mr Ding, the son of a small-business family, said in an interview. Mr Ding (right) dropped out of junior high school at 15 to work in a shoemaking shop, saying that almost everyone else in his age bracket seemed to have done so at that time. Besides, he thought then, schoolbook knowledge was useless. A close friend of his youth, Ding Zhizhong, the founder and chairman of Hong Kong-listed Anta Sports Products, went to Beijing selling shoes at the age of 17. But Xtep's Mr Ding aimed higher - he wanted to be a boss rather than just working for others. Two years later, he realised this dream by investing 500 yuan - the wages he saved for half a year - to start his own shoemaking workshop employing only three workers. 'I was not quite ambitious at that time, just wanted to be a boss myself,' Mr Ding said. Four years later, in 1991, he seized the opportunity brought by the fall of the Soviet Union: he found that his shoes could be traded for Russian-made furs. 'I realised that foreigners liked my shoes, and that marked the start of my export business,' he said. However, competition among numerous mainland original equipment manufacturers (OEM) in the shoe export business became fierce, and this prompted Mr Ding to make another strategic decision - to focus on the domestic market by building the brand Xtep in 2000. Even today, mainland factories make a staggering 10.88 billion pairs of shoes each year - 68 per cent of the global output - statistics from the Asia Footwear Association show. However, the majority are small and medium-sized companies operating on an OEM basis. Mr Ding has a clear strategy for Xtep - target youngsters in second- and third-tier cities. Xtep was the first sports shoemaker to hire a pop star - Nicholas Tse Ting-fung - as its spokesman and model for its commercials. This has enabled the company to reach its target customers. Mr Ding emphasised that bringing fashion into sports was a different strategy from those pursued by bigger rivals Li Ning and Anta, which are more associated with sports events and athletes. 'The Olympic Games is a golden opportunity for our industry,' he said, 'but we are focusing more on the post-Olympics market now.' He said he was optimistic about the post-Olympics market because 'unlike the sports facilities built for the Olympics, sportswear has a longer and more profound impact on mainland consumers.' Mr Ding, now a father of three, has changed his attitude towards knowledge. 'Now I don't think knowledge is useless,' he said with a grin. 'Knowledge is useful and I hope to send my children overseas to learn more. 'Compared with other shoemakers in my hometown which have closed shop, I feel that I am quite lucky,' Mr Ding said, noting that doing the right thing at the right time was the key to his success.