AMATEUR dramatics enthusiast Lord Smith of Kelvin has a way with impressions that is all too appropriate for someone who has proved himself to be a man of parts.

The peer, who seems equally at ease speaking in the voices of Buckingham Palace functionaries, English aristos and his native Glasgow, has amassed one of the most impressive CVs in corporate Britain.

His jobs have included heading some of Scotland’s biggest companies and chairing both the Organising Committee for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the commission established to deliver on the pledge to transfer powers to Scotland made by the UK Government in advance of the independence referendum in 2014.

With his 74th birthday approaching slowing down is not on the agenda.

“I need the money,” laughs Lord Smith, who owns Inchmarnock island off Bute and a vineyard in South Africa, before adding more plausibly: “I just, I hugely enjoy being involved in things.”

The City grandee recently added the chairmanship of the Government-funded British Business Bank to a portfolio that includes holding the same role at Forth Ports and engineering firm IMI.

He is already convinced the bank has played an important role in helping firms ranging from tiny start ups to established businesses get the backing they need to fulfil their potential.

Its activities range from funding the Start up Loan Company to providing cornerstone finance of up to around £40m for firms that are raising funds that will invest in growth contenders.

The bank is supporting £4.6 billion of finance to 70,000 smaller businesses and participating in a further £7bn of finance to mid cap firms.

In Scotland it supports over £311m finance for smaller firms and £171m for mid caps.

It recently announced plans to provide £2.5bn ‘patient capital’ for high growth potential firms in the UK.

But when Lord Smith took the BBB job on some of his pals did not know what the organisation was.

“The British Business Bank is not as well known as it deserves to be because we operate through partners. When you’re a small business and you go along you might be going to see a challenger bank which has been helped by the British Business Bank to get where they are.”

Lord Smith is particularly enthusiastic about the work of the Start up Loans company, which has provided £400 million through 55,000 loans since its inception five years ago.

The organisation works with people who are in many cases at the very start of their entrepreneurial journeys and have little chance of getting funding from established sources. Counselling is an important part of its work.

Members of the team at the company have made a real impression.

“You meet these people and it’s no surprise that several of them are Australian. They high five each other as they pass in the corridor and stuff and they can actually relate to a lot of people who are trying to set up businesses. Because it’s scary setting up a business, really scary. Exciting but scary.”

Working with an organisation that plays a positive role in helping small firms to develop appears to be a source of real pleasure for Lord Smith, who has focussed at the bigger end of the corporate world in recent years, chairing giants such as SSE and Weir.

“It’s what I was born for, it’s my first love.”

After a fail at university put paid to his plans to become an English teacher, the Maryhill boy trained as a chartered accountant with Glasgow’s Robb Ferguson & Co. He enjoyed advising minnows ranging from cafes to carpet shops.

“It was a five year apprenticeship. They hammered you but at the end of the day could you add up columns of figures, did you really understand business.”

He went on to play an influential role in the development of the private equity industry in the UK in a career which progressed from a junior role at the former ICFC to big jobs in the sector such as running the operation he established for Morgan Grenfell in Edinburgh.

The numbers man moved into the limelight in 1996 after being asked to lead the parent asset management organisation’s efforts to deal with the problems caused by trader Peter Young, who was found unfit to stand trial after being charged with fraud.

“Suddenly I’ve got several thousand people scattered all over the world reporting to me ... They were very good people and we managed to hold the thing together and I eventually retired from there having solved the Peter Young thing.”

He was knighted in 1999 and given a peerage in 2008, sitting in the upper house as an independent.

Lord Smith reckons the funding situation for small and medium sized firms has improved over the years but there is room for improvement on both the supply and demand sides.

Part of the British Business Bank’s work is about encouraging people to ask for funding.

He looks forward to it working with the Scottish National Investment Bank. An implementation plan for the body drawn up under former Tesco Bank boss Benny Higgins was published in February.

“They’re feeling their way right now but does it get in the way of the British Business Bank? Absolutely not. I can see us co-operating in the future, co-investing in funds, doing all sorts of things.”

Reflecting on recent achievements, Lord Smith appears happy to have helped oversee a dramatic shake up at Alliance Trust after the call went out from the board for a “craggy old campaigner” to steady the ship amid a campaign for change by activist investor Elliott.

The management of its funds was transferred to outsiders.

“We’ve got fund managers who are performing out of their skins, we managed to find a good home for the investment team that was already there. The 20 per cent shareholder has moved on. I think we had six questions at the annual general meeting. Nobody’s baying for blood, that’s quite satisfying.”

Among his many contributions to wider Scottish life chairing the Glasgow Commonwealth Games Organising Committee seems to be a source of pride to Lord Smith, who highlights the legacy the event left to his home city.

“I think a lot of people thought the dog will bark and the caravan will move on and wasn’t it great and all that. Well the athlete’s village is now partly affordable housing.”

He notes the commission which bore his name completed the task on the two month timetable set following the independence referendum.

“I’m satisfied with what we reported on because there’s a transfer of significant additional powers, rates and bands and income tax and a huge amount on the social security side which they’re just beginning to implement now.” When things like control of the Scottish foreshore are factored in “a million things” were transferred over.

It is up to the Holyrood Parliament to decide what to do with the powers.

Lord Smith was appointed a Companion of Honour in 2016 in recognition of his work on a project that had huge significance.

He felt “nervous as a kitten” before going out to present the commission’s report to an audience packed with reporters from around the world, including TV teams from Catalonia and Quebec where there have been heated debates about independence.

But the only cavil concerns a phone call from David Cameron shortly before he was due to present the report. The former PM seemed unhappy with the text regarding the powers of Scottish MPs to vote on English matters, which had been agreed by the representatives of the Conservative party on the commission. He got short shrift.

“Well I lost it and said to him: Look next time I’ll phone you and you can chair it,” recalls Lord Smith with a smile. He adds: “I got a lovely letter from him subsequently.”