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After TSX Ventures, John McCoach steps up for national securities regulator Add to ...

The old Vancouver and Alberta stock exchanges were full of speculative – and sometimes bogus – junior resource stocks. In 1999, John McCoach was part of a group of investment bankers who merged the two to create a better market for early-stage companies. Two years later, it was bought by the Toronto Stock Exchange and became the TSX Venture Exchange. But after the 2008-2009 financial crisis and a global commodities bust, share prices plummeted and new listings dried up. McCoach took over as president in August, 2009. This July, the 58-year-old stepped down to join the board of the Capital Markets Regulatory Association, the foundation for a proposed new national securities regulator.

The Venture Index is still down about 75 per cent from its pre-crisis highs. Is this a cyclical decline or a permanent one?

Markets are always cyclical, and a number of factors drive a cycle. Commodity prices have been the largest one. But structural issues – demographics, regulatory trends, alternative investments – also have an influence. I think things have turned around. The index is up about 60 per cent since Jan. 20.

You launched a revitalization drive for the Venture Exchange last fall. How is that going?

We’ve identified three strategic objectives – reducing costs, expanding the investor base and diversifying the stock list – and 25 tactics in support of those objectives.

Are both the junior and senior markets in Canada too dominated by resources?

Canada has used public markets to support natural resource companies for 150 years. We should be proud of that. Yes, about 60 per cent of the Venture Exchange’s stock list is mining and minerals, and about 10 per cent is oil-and-gas-related. But that means about 500 others are in other sectors – technology, life sciences, real estate, light industry and more. We need to make the exchange a more attractive option for new companies in those sectors.

You started in the business in Vancouver in 1981. Was the market wilder in those days?

I worked in a small family-owned firm. I did a bit of everything–worked in the back office, counted share certificates for audit, worked in credit and compliance, helped out on the VSE trading floor. I was a kid. My eyes were as wide as a saucer.

Well, there were a lot of colourful promoters. But aren’t there always a lot of promoters in junior markets?

Sure. And that’s a good thing. But, in hindsight, a lot of companies were funded that shouldn’t have gone public. And there were some people who probably had no business being in capital markets. Whether it’s a promoter, officer, director or large shareholder, they have to understand the integrity standards of the market. The TMX as a whole now has a team of about 15 people who vet the backgrounds of market participants.

What do you view as your greatest accomplishment?

Being involved in creating the Canadian Venture Exchange in 1999. I was at Yorkton Securities, and I sat on a number of VSE and securities commission committees. In 1998, me and other directors and governors concluded that small, regional stock markets didn’t make sense any more. So we approached the ASE, and we had a private dinner in the Westin hotel in Calgary. The menu was Alberta beef and B.C. salmon. Within an hour, it went from talk about merging the VSE and ASE to creating a single market for early-stage companies.

You had announced that you would retire at the end of this year. What happened?

An opportunity presented itself.

What will you miss most about the Venture Exchange?

Talking to entrepreneurs every day about their companies. You see them just light up.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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