WHEN headhunters lined up a shortlist for the job of running the Prince's Scottish Youth Business Trust six years ago, one CV stood out.

Major-general Mark Strudwick, then 53, had just stood down as the 117th and last General Officer commanding the Army in Scotland, his retirement coinciding with reorganisation of the northern British regiments.

"I was absolutely determined not to sit at home and do the garden, " he recalls. "Everybody said to me you have got to take a couple of years off but I wanted to get a second career."

But was the Sandhurst-educated Royal Scots officer, twice mentioned in despatches from Northern Ireland, and the last governor of Edinburgh Castle, really the man to take on the challenge of PSYBT, its budgets and its balance sheet, and a board bristling with millionaire entrepreneurs?

"They wanted somebody who they knew with confidence was going to run the organisation, somebody who was going to listen to the board but then be proactive enough to follow through and lead the way for what is a very diverse organisation."

PSYBT has 36 staff and 600 volunteers spread over 17 regions of Scotland, and last year invested pounds-2.1m in 640 young people. It turns over a third-of-a-million pounds a month, has handed out two-thirdsof-a-million to 57 businesses over three years from a new growth fund, and the activity it spawns is estimated to be worth pounds-80m a year to the Scottish economy.

Strudwick says: "So many aspects of it are like the Army. You have to be really thorough in your forward planning, you have to motivate your volunteer workforce and use their skills to best effect, and you have to focus your resources."

However, he also insists: "I have been very very lucky, I can't express how lucky I have been . . . I don't think the talents and skills that we have in the services are really recognised. There is an assumption that we are going to be in a particular mould, when actually every one of us is different and has an ability to be a strong team player or a decisive leader. I think there are many areas of our business and public services which would really benefit from having more ex-service men and women."

In the 1990s, Strudwick was director of infantry, and responsible for 12,000 officers at the time of the Army's "options for change". "We had to make 2850 officers redundant, that was a very difficult time." Then in 2004 as a member of the council of Scottish colonels, Strudwick was handed the job of approving and publicly defending the politically-explosive creation of a single Scottish regiment, which also involved the merger of his own Royal Scots with the King's Own Scottish Borderers.

"We had to come up with a solution, we couldn't just go back to the MoD without one, they would have just imposed it. Inevitably it was enormously painful, because this is the ultimate change."

He reflects: "What people find hard to accept is that the commitment and determination of our soldiers is not ref lected in the way the Treasury is constantly driving down the costs, and the balance between having the right manpower and procurement - which always costs too much and takes too long."

But Strudwick also urges a more radical economic perspective. "We have a thriving economy, we have nearly full employment, but we have this whole group of young people not in employment, education or training, who 20 or 30 years ago would have gone into the services . . . I feel there are a whole group of young people out there who would actually benefit enormously from it. Yes, it is rigorous but it is enormously worthwhile and challenging."

He goes on: "A lot of young people have an independent streak and they want to work for themselves. We get 3000 a year who register with us and 600 of them convert into running a full business full-time."

The Scottish Executive's Determined to Succeed programme, backed by Sir Tom Hunter and others, is "pushing out a strong message" about entrepreneuring, Strudwick says, while cautioning: "You can't just click your fingers, it will take a generation, but it is definitely feeding through now and we are finding more and more young people thinking about it. The key thing for PSYBT is to show young people there are role models out there who are making it work for themselves."

One such is Paul Conway, who came to PSYBT as a butcher's apprentice with pounds-22,000 of debts, asking for a loan to take over the shop in which he was working.

Working with an experienced after-care adviser, Conway has improved the business's turnover from pounds-78,000 to a projected pounds-900,000 in two shops employing 20. He was backed by the trust's growth fund as he couldn't raise a bank loan for expansion.

Strudwick says: "The point of the story is that when we supported him, we had no idea he was going to be so successful."

Each region has a local chairman ("all strong people who are really committed to helping us") , and a full-time manager, working with the network of 600 volunteers whose experience and loyalty is critical, Strudwick stresses. "They are the ones who sit on panels looking at proper business plans, which then come into head office and are approved within 24 to 48 hours." There is a constant process of monitoring how businesses are progressing and evaluating what makes them fail. One in five ceases trading within 12 months and 50-per cent are still going after three years.

He says: "If someone is having problems we will give them a payment holiday, we don't charge any extra interest like a bank would do, all we want people to do is keep in touch with us and pay as regularly as they can."Around 3-per cent disappear off the radar, some "trying to run off with the money and not start a business".

Strudwick comments: "We do know we are going to have to take risks to succeed, calculated risk is what PSYBT is all about, in some cases very high calculated risk." But he points to the 75-per cent pay-back of the pounds-27m handed out by the trust over the past 17 years in unsecured loans - far more significant than the pounds-3.5m disbursed in grants. The average investment in each start-up was around pounds-3700 last year.

PSYBT earns 40-per cent of its annual revenue from loan repayments, and 20-per cent from fund-raising, with 20-per cent core funding from Scottish Enterprise and 20-per cent from the EU, and Strudwick is keen to keep the balance sheet healthy, reporting a doubling of cash reserves last year to pounds-2.6m. He says: "The things I have learned in the Army have helped me to ensure we use our resources to best effect. The great thing about PSYBT is we are giving young people the chance to turn their dreams into reality."