Sir Tom Hunter, Scotland’s highest-profile entrepreneur, is battling to cope with a savage retail downturn and ill-timed exposure to the housing market.

He called in administrators this week to USC, one of his high street fashion businesses, though he immediately bought back 43 of USC’s 48 stores. This was just the latest in a series of setbacks for the grocer’s son who started out selling trainers from the back of a van.

In recent months, two of his construction company investments – Crest Nicholson and McCarthy & Stone – have slumped in value; his garden centre chain – Wyevale – is in refinancing talks with its backers; his Icelandic investment partner – Baugur – is in disarray; his Icelandic financial partner – Kaupthing – has collapsed; and his main financial backer – HBOS – could well shrink its commitments following its imminent takeover by Lloyds TSB.

Sir Tom’s official line is sanguine. 'We have a wide portfolio of assets, some of which are performing well, some not so well. But our strategy is not to liquidate assets, it is to steer through this storm,' a spokesman said.

Sir Tom did, nonetheless, admit he was 'tightening my belt like everybody else'.

Financial Times