Obituary: Flight-Lieutenant Sir Alan Smith CBE DFC DL, flying ace and businessman.

Sir Alan Smith

Sir Alan Smith

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Born: 14 March, 1917, in South Shields, Tyne and Wear. Died: 1 March, 2013, in Perth, aged 95.

Sir Alan, who died rather suddenly a few days ago and whose obituary was printed by The Scotsman on 5 March, was a most remarkable and able man rarely found whose basic characteristics were of an exceptionally clear mind coupled with energy and commitment levels which when required were dramatic. These were the foundations of a war and peace time career which was one of huge achievement.

The famous flyer and war time “ace” Douglas Bader apparently had similar characteristics and in March 1941 these may have prompted the inspired selection of Sgt Smith, “a dark sallow-complexioned youth” to the key role of his “wingman” to guard his tail against enemy fighters while in combat.

Sadly for Bader and for the Tangmere wing, Sgt Smith was unavailable one day in August and that day Bader was shot down over France.

The last months of the war found Alan at Balado, near Kinross, then an RAF base. A close relationship with Margaret Todd, whose family business was Todd & Duncan, turned into marriage and, after demob, Alan became a cashmere spinner with responsibilities which sharply increased on the sudden death of Margaret’s father in 1946.

The growth of a small family company employing 42 people into Dawson International, a major international textile listed entity, employing 7,000 people just outside the FT industrial share index, but still run from
and headquartered in Kinross, was one of the great success stories 
of Scottish industrial achievement in the post-war period and was still very much intact on Alan’s (very reluctant) retirement in 1982.

But Dawson’s loss was others’ gain and I was very fortunate indeed to meet Alan shortly before, while seeking a chairman for a new company being formed to take over the major railway hotels in Scotland, namely Gleneagles, the Caledonian and the North British (now the Balmoral).

There was considerable private and institutional scepticism about these three properties and the then very new concept of taking former state-run assets into the private sector and making them pay which, until then under state ownership, had proved impossible. Alan had no doubts whatsoever and if his personal presentation to a large gathering of institutions was short it was very simple.

It went something like this: “If you don’t buy these shares I will buy them myself and I will make a lot of money from them”. They did.

In 1983 the late Michael Munro and I decided that we could judiciously combine our energies to form a new Scottish merchant bank and it was clear that our first “conversation” in seeking capital should be Alan.

Not a banker himself, but in the ex-fighter pilot and clear sighted successful industrialist, we had what we needed almost overnight and Quayle Munro (QM) was born.

Michael, with his partners’ blessing, resigned from Chiene & Tait CA and I from the British Linen Bank. Alan was the original chairman of QM and his disciplined approach to corporate matters was the foundation of the inherently very steady financial and professional principles on which the business was built and on which it floated publicly in 1993.

Being chairman of a financial institution, even a small one, may have sometimes been a shade uncomfortable for Alan.

I had a feeling he was never wholly at ease with people who “didn’t make anything”, but his legendary common sense was always right on the ball and his old Dawson bonus system of one quarter of the excess 
of budget (calculated on a decently demanding basis) going to staff stood the test of time in Quayle Munro from 1983 until 2007. It should have lasted longer.

After Margaret’s death Alan was very fortunate to build a new relationship and it was on that foundation that the second part of his long career was built. In 1977 he married Alice, who was born and brought up in Kinross.

Lady Alice was a huge support to him and among many other things a wonderful hostess – very important for the wife of a man who loved parties, particularly business ones.

A great life has to end sometime but the example set by it remains forever.

• The Scotsman’s original obituary of Sir Alan Smith failed to clarify that his first wife, Margaret, died in 1971, and he married his second wife, Alice (née Moncur) in 1977. As he was not knighted until 1982 it was incorrect to call his first wife “Lady Margaret”. We apologise for the errors.

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