George Donaldson CBE - a Scottish timber pioneer

8 November 2016

George Donaldson, a leading figure in the Scottish timber trade and who played a key role in building one of Scotland’s most successful family companies, has died.

He was the fourth in a direct line of eldest sons to run the Fife firm of James Donaldson and Sons. When he joined it was a medium-sized company with sawmills at Leven and Tayport. With the help of his eldest son Neil and their loyal staff he turned it into Scotland’s largest independent timber merchant, with sales in excess of £132m and 23 sites across the UK.

He was born in Lundin Links in 1926. His father was a veteran of the Somme and his mother a scion of the Paisley jam-making dynasty.

After demobilisation from the army he joined the family firm in 1948 and was immediately sent to learn the trade in the forests of Scandinavia. He returned fluent in Swedish.

Back in Scotland he commenced the modernisation of the family firm, becoming the first Scottish timber merchant to invest in a forklift truck.

He became MD in 1969 and chairman in 1971, having to deal with a devastating fire at the Leven yard soon after. With support from loyal staff and customers he modernised the site with a new sawmill.

He served first as president of the Scottish Timber Merchants’ and Sawmillers’ Association, then as president of the Scottish Timber Trades’ Association and next as president of the Timber Research and Development Association (UK). He became only the second Scot to preside over the Timber Trade Federation.

Despite being one of Scotland’s most successful businessmen he took a salary equivalent to only three times that of his labourers. In 2000 the Queen invested him as a CBE.

His eldest son Neil is current chairman and two of his grandchildren now serve on the board of James Donaldson and Sons.