IT is a voyage that began in Scotland in 1919, when its founder first became involved in marine insurance.

Almost a century later, the good ship TL Dallas is moving full-steam back into the Scottish market.

Polly Staveley, deputy managing director of the family-owned commercial insurance firm, believes her great grandfather would take particular satisfaction at the news that the business had gone "back to our Scottish roots".

The firm has been active in Scotland since opening offices in Shetland in 1993, building on its long-standing connection to shipping insurance, and in Falkirk seven years later.

But it was the launch of its office in Glasgow's St Vincent Street two years ago that signalled a serious step change in the TL Dallas operation, north of the Border.

Ms Staveley says: "That office has been going for nearly two years and it has already more than doubled in size. We are absolutely delighted to have a presence in the Glasgow market.

"I think it is a really exciting city and it is nice to be back where we started in a way.

"It is not quite geographically where we started, but I think my great grandfather would be very pleased to know we are expanding in Scotland again."

It could be said that TL Dallas, which employs 104 staff in 11 offices, is a classic tale of Scottish entrepreneurship.

Colonel Thomas Lessels Dallas, "the TL in TL Dallas", began his career in the port of Leith, where he worked in the shipping business with Christian Salvesen and developed an interest in marine insurance.

After a spell with the Scottish Life Assurance Company, he decamped to Bradford, spotting the opportunity to provide insurance to the thriving textile industry.

Ms Staveley says it was a time when the streets of the Yorkshire city were "paved with gold, or wool!". She says: "At that time, his friends became clients and he was a trusted insurance adviser to many companies in the post-war boom. I think at one point Bradford was producing something like 95% of all the worsted cloth - the textiles the Italians, the English and everyone used in their suit making - for the world's suit market. It really was boom time in Bradford."

The good times continued to roll for TL Dallas as control was gradually handed down the generations. It passed first to Ms Staveley's grandfather, who was "expected to come literally out of his aeroplane on to the desk the Monday after the war ended", and then to her father, who joined after leaving university.

By that stage, the company had expanded to include several offices, including a presence in the UK capital.

But although it had always maintained a family feel and ethos - and continues to do so - it was not assumed Ms Staveley would follow in her forefathers' footsteps.

Indeed, banking was her career of choice, and she joined Yorkshire Bank as a graduate trainee. Within seven years, however, she had become "disillusioned with large company politics", and increasingly frustrated that key decisions were being made in Melbourne following Yorkshire's acquisition by National Australia Bank (NAB). It was then that the prospect of her joining the family business arose.

Ms Staveley says: "I said to my father: I would like to work for a smaller company, what do you think about me joining? He was delighted. He always had his reservations about women in business, but I managed to convince him over the years that people don't mind doing business with women, in fact some of them prefer it."

Ms Staveley is equally sure it was the right move for her. She relishes the customer-facing nature of her role and finding out what makes her clients tick.

She adds: "Every customer you meet is different. In banking you are lending someone £1 million, but £1m is £1m, you do not get stuck into the nitty gritty of the business.

"You look at the accounts and [ask yourself] can they pay it back, whereas [with] insurance you get really deeply involved in customers' businesses. You have to really understand the way they work, their supply chain, their manufacturing processes. It is a very interesting job."

She also draws satisfaction from successfully resolving claims. Ms Staveley says: "When you have a disaster you need to know your broker and your insurance company are going to react quickly and pay what you are insured for. While claims are tricky, that is when the great satisfaction occurs: when they [clients] know that they are paying their premiums and they know that their insurance company is going to pay their claims when they need them."

Not that everything has been plain sailing for TL Dallas and the commercial insurance sector in recent years.

Historically the company has looked to grow both organically and by steadily acquiring small independent brokers, typically owner-managed businesses approaching retirement.

Ms Staveley notes that before the financial crash acquisitions had become all but impossible as the activities of the major "consolidators" drove prices up. Happily prices have receded again.

She explains: "In the heady days when Towergate [Insurance] started buying companies they were paying two or three times income for companies and that was not sustainable. With the banking crisis the banks were not prepared to foot those kind of bills either.

"The price insurance brokerages cost to buy has definitely come down now. The challenge for us is finding the right ones with the right fit."

Ms Staveley, whose firm places business with scores of underwriters through the Lloyds of London market, notes another consequence of the recession is that insurers now "inspect every claim much more carefully".

She also believes most insurance firms will have seen a rise in fraudulent claims since the downturn struck.

In spite of the broader economic challenges, Ms Staveley is satisfied with how TL Dallas has performed in recent years.

In its most recent accounts at Companies House, the TL Dallas Group reported pre-tax profits of £1.34 million for the year ended December 31, 2012, compared with £1.03m the year before, on turnover of £8.05m, up from £7.33m. Ms Staveley says it has lost only a "handful" of clients through insolvency during the recession, and points out that it has benefited, as many of the firms it does business with are not saddled with large bank borrowings. Many offer niche products and are able to respond quickly to their customers' needs.

In contrast, she says, brokers that found themselves over-exposed to the construction sector have been hit hard.

Ms Staveley says: "Certainly our income has remained steady through the recession and has increased slightly in the past couple of years on a like-for-like basis. I think that is due to the customer base we have."

Other challenges remain, however. Traditionally, TL Dallas has found difficulty recruiting up-and-coming staff as talented executives have neared retirement, though Ms Staveley says this problem has eased as staff turn their backs on the major firms in favour of working for independent brokers.

Then there is the burden of regulation, which is mitigated to some extent through membership of Unitas, the alliance of independent insurance brokers.

Ms Staveley explains: "Through that network we centralise some of our regulatory requirements. It is a challenge but it does not affect our business too much luckily."

Such difficulties aside, Ms Staveley is confident about the future and says TL Dallas may yet add to its office network in Scotland. Aberdeen is a possible destination.

She says: "We are always on the look out for small to medium-sized acquisitions in Scotland and still in England as well. We always come to a fair deal. We often ask those owner managers to stay with us as consultants for two or three years to sort of manage the transition. That model works very well for us."