ALAN McLeish has sold the QTS rail maintenance business he started with a £300 loan from his mum for £80 million.

The entrepreneur, 58, has struck a cash deal to sell the Lanarkshire-based business to Renew Holdings which puts fresh gloss on a remarkable rags to riches tale.

Mr McLeish left school aged 16 with no qualifications after being told he would never amount to anything.

READ MORE: Success of Lanarkshire's QTS will encourage entrepreneurs across Scotland

He started working in forestry to support his young family and took the risk of starting his own business, Quality Tree Surgeons, in 1991 in spite of having to operate on a shoe string.

“I borrowed £300 from my mum to buy a chainsaw and built from there,” he has said.

After winning his first contract from the old British Rail, Mr McLeish developed a business that specialised in helping operators to keep vegetation under control and then diversified into providing a range of support services across the UK.

The group’s clients include Scotrail, Network Rail, Scottish Water and British Telecom.

Read more: Tree surgeon prospers on hard work and good advice

QTS made £9m profit on sales of £72m in its latest financial year. It employs around 300 people.

The chief executive of Leeds-based Renew, Paul Scott, said QTS had established a strong position in a market with good growth prospects.

“QTS has grown to become a leading and well respected brand in the Rail sector and we very much look forward to supporting its ambition for continued growth,” he said.

READ MORE: Success of Lanarkshire's QTS will encourage entrepreneurs across Scotland

Spending on rail renewal and maintenance work is set to rise significantly from next year under the five-year spending plan agreed by Network Rail with the UK Government.

Analysts at Renew’s broker, Numis, noted there are high barriers to entry to the market. QTS operates a fleet of specialised access vehicles that run on rail tracks and has employees with the accreditation required by Network Rail.

Mr Scott praised the quality of the management team at QTS, noting it has built good relationships with customers.

Mr McLeish and other members of the QTS management will remain with the business. The acquisition is not expected to result in any redundancies at QTS, which will operate under its existing brand.

“We very much look forward to the future as part of a larger group,” said Mr McLeish.

“The transaction will provide opportunities to expand our market share and benefit from the synergies with their existing successful brands working in highly regulated sectors.”

READ MORE: Success of Lanarkshire's QTS will encourage entrepreneurs across Scotland

Aim-listed Renew provides support services on assets ranging from nuclear energy plants to luxury housing blocks. It does maintenance work for Network Rail.

Mr McLeish hoped to become a professional footballer on leaving school before an injury ended his dreams.

QTS has been shirt sponsor of Kilmarnock Football Club for six seasons. It extended the deal for two years in March.

EY advised shareholders in QTS. The accountancy firm’s Ally Scott said: “QTS has been a major success story amongst growth companies in Scotland.”