Can Azeem Ibrahim be real? I'm having trouble believing it and he's sitting beside me. He's a multi-millionaire with his own bank, and scholar with a doctorate from Cambridge University. He advises governments on inward investment, belongs to US and UK think tanks and has an address book to rival a prime minister's.

With a self-made fortune of £60m, he's setting up charities all over the world. He is handsome, impeccably dressed and relentlessly courteous. He has a paediatrician wife called Hena and a baby daughter, Sophia, with whom he lives on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Did I mention that Azeem Ibrahim, who grew up in a council house in Glasgow, is 32 years old?

How has he achieved so much so young? Mohammed Ibrahim, his father, certainly motivated him, but not in the way you expect. When a supermarket opened near his grocer's shop he went bankrupt. Within five years he had a heart attack and died. He was 56.

It left its mark on Azeem and changed his life. He tells me this after flying in from Washington following dinner at the White House with George W Bush. "I almost missed the flight," he says "No-one is allowed to leave until the president does and no-one knew where the president was."

Before we speak I observe him arrive at the Scottish Parliament, where he's about to address 100 of Scotland's movers and shakers, many of them Asian. As the keynote speaker, he is escorted to the door of the room and then I have a foretaste of the graciousness he displays throughout the evening. He steps back to allow one of the organisers from the Institute of Asian Professionals to precede him. How many masters of the universe would show such humility?

It is the first of several surprises. Another is how he changes the tone of the evening. Until his arrival, the background chat is about how the Asian community is sidelined despite punching above its economic weight. One man explains that businessmen of Pakistani origin struggle to get loans. Another says the Asian community feels misrepresented in the media. They don't sound angry, more hurt.

I imagine Ibrahim's speech will echo these introspective concerns. I'm wrong. "We live in unprecedented times and enjoy unprecedented privileges," he reminds the audience. "We can write and say whatever we want; a privilege denied most human beings, dead or alive. We have more information at our fingertips than Aristotle did and more opportunity to travel than Alexander the Great."

He talks of the challenges of population growth, climate change and the shift of economic power from the US to China and India. How will Scotland meet those challenges? Scots have given the world anaesthetic, penicillin, radar, golf and the decimal point. The telephone and television, both Scottish inventions, have shaped the modern word. The people of Scotland are its greatest asset. They have invention and entrepreneurship hard-wired into their DNA. So, he challenges, how can we, Scotland's citizens, take the country forward?

Then he takes questions from the floor, from academics, entrepreneurs and politicians. He pauses to frame each reply. It is interesting to watch how comfortable he is with the silence. As he reveals his authority, and knowledge, the audience sits quietly in respect. In the row behind me, his big sister is impressed. "I've never seen him perform before," she says. "He's not a bit like that at home."

There are six Ibrahim brothers and sisters. It's a close family and his childhood sounds happy. But it takes grit to make a pearl. Most great men are spurred by misfortune, yet nature seems to smile on Ibrahim. So what made him so successful?

"There's a combination of things," he tells me when we talk after his lecture. "I come from a humble background. I have worked since I was 13, non-stop."

He is the fourth child of Mohammed and Khurshida Ibrahim who had a grocer's shop on Maryhill Road. People may remember Azeem, the "quiet, shy boy", who worked behind the counter after school. Between customers he passed the time reading newspapers, including the business pages - learning about the City and the markets. By fifth year at Hillhead High he was dabbling in investments. Had life continued undisturbed, Ibrahim might have been an academic or one of the businessmen in his audience. But disaster struck.

He was in his mid-teens when a supermarket opened near his father's shop. The business collapsed and his father went bankrupt. The family had to leave their home in Garnethill and move into a council house in Anderston. "To see your family in such a state; it crushes your soul," he says.

Is this what spurred him to succeed? Possibly, he says. Towards the end of school, he spotted a money-making opportunity in the privatisation of Railtrack and made £2000. Then, instead of going to university, he went travelling around the Middle East, Africa and the Far East. He developed an interest in philosophy and studied in France for a year.

Shortly after he returned home, his father died. When he speaks about it, a shadow crosses his face. Ibrahim wanted to make money and opportunities in Glasgow were limited, so he went to London to a job in IT. He set up his first business with a friend he met at work. By the end of the 1990s he was in commodities, selling cobalt and zinc to the Middle East and China. He was paying huge insurance premiums. With his partner he created an online insurance company targeting the maritime market. It was a success.

His next move was to open the European Commerce and Mercantile bank. He was still in his twenties. By day he built the business, at night he studied. He gained an MSc in strategic studies and an MBA. He was also an athlete, keen on competitive running. In 1999 he joined the TA. He is a man of middle height, quite finely built, yet his chosen regiment was one of the toughest, the Paras. Ibrahim was with the 4th Battalion for seven years and completed more than 100 parachute jumps.

He is in the process of creating a hedge fund. It stands at £100m and he plans to build it to £1bn. To those who warn about an economic downturn he says that the problem is western, not global. The Gulf states are awash with cash. Last year, Azeem Ibrahim was listed in the Sunday Times Rich List for the first time. He asked the man who compiles it if there is a characteristic common to self-made millionaires. "He told me every single one has a sometimes irrational belief in themselves. Even when they are bankrupt, they think, This is only a temporary hiccup'."

Is he like that? "I am under no illusion as to my own personal abilities," he says. "I grew up on a council estate in Glasgow and yesterday I had dinner with the President of the United States. But I am a practising Muslim and I believe what has been given to me is by the grace of God.

"I have been extremely fortunate and with great fortune, with increased wealth and increased power, comes increased responsibility. My guiding ethos is, what do you live for if not to make the world less difficult for each other?

"I have been successful in order that I can now undertake and initiate projects that will make the lives of other people less difficult. We've got numerous educational programmes all over the world. We're looking to expand those. That's one of the main reasons for me to do what I do."

His Britishness is a source of great pride. He is a director of the National Defence Association and sees no contradiction between his patriotism and his faith. "I believe that my two identities as a British citizen and as a Muslim are complementary. There is absolutely no conflict whatsoever.

"I am a better Muslim because I am British with the freedom to practise my religion. I am a better British citizen because I am a Muslim. Islam teaches us to have an obligation to our nation - to the nation we live in. We all have a collective obligation to take the interests of Scotland further."

Does the strength of his patriotism mean that growing up in Glasgow was a trouble-free experience? "There's difficulty in every sphere of life. In the Paras I faced difficulty as well, but not any more than many others. I have lived and travelled throughout the world and I am more than fully aware of the opportunities this country has given me."

Time is short. There is a room full of people waiting to speak to him, then at 4am he will fly back to America to his wife and baby daughter. I am gathering myself to leave when I become aware he's standing, patiently waiting to shake hands and say a proper farewell. He is exceptional - but real.