IT is going to be an unusual Christmas for Stuart Paterson, the recently-installed chairman of Glasgow packaging company Macfarlane Group. Although he will officially leave his post as chief financial officer at Forth Ports just 72 hours into 2018, the forthcoming festive season effectively comes at the end of Mr Paterson’s final year in full-time executive work. As the year draws to a close, therefore, it will not just be the events of 2017 he will reflect upon, but a long career holding senior finance jobs with some of Scotland’s best-known listed companies.

“My official last day is the third of January, which seems strange, but it’s actually my 60th birthday,” Mr Paterson observed in the comfortable surroundings of Macfarlane’s Glasgow head office.

“That’s the rationale behind it. I’d always said I didn’t want to be working full-time beyond my 60th birthday, so I can put a tick in that box.”

Mr Paterson, an economist to trade, has no shortage of highlights to savour as he looks back on his career. He recalls that he was the third employee to join Motorola in Bathgate, where the headcount would eventually have grown to 2,500 by the time he left his senior managerial role. He was the finance director at Aggreko when it demerged from Christian Salvesen in the late 1990s, and had some highs during a nine-year spell as chief financial officer of newspaper publisher Johnston Press between 2001 and 2010.

Latterly, he has enjoyed a highly rewarding stint at Forth Ports, which he believes has thrived since moving off the stock market and back into private ownership. He describes his time at Forth, where he will be replaced by long-serving Aggreko director Carole Cran, as a “great way” to finish his full-time executive career.

“If you’d asked me as a boy at Portobello Secondary School I would have a career as I’ve had I wouldn’t have believed you,” Mr Paterson said. “From that point of view, it’s been extremely pleasing.”

Yet, while it is natural to reflect at this stage of his career, Mr Paterson has no plans to reach for the metaphorical pipe and slippers just yet. Although he is officially contracted to work at least 45 days per year as the chairman of Macfarlane, he has been in business long enough to anticipate some elasticity in that commitment.

“If you get times when there is significant corporate activity going on there will be more [hours] than that,” he said. “You have to have that flexibility. I wouldn’t have accepted the chairman’s job while still doing a full-time executive’s role. I don’t think the two are compatible.”

What he does not anticipate is any meaningful change in strategy at Macfarlane. Under chief executive Peter Atkinson, who has led the company since 2003, and former chairman Graeme Bissett, the firm has achieved seven straight years of profits growth. A further rise is expected in the current financial year.

Much of the success is down to the niche carved by its dominant packaging distribution arm in designing and supplying high-end solutions for retailers’ internet delivery operations, with clients such as Selfridges and Feel Unique.

The organic growth brought by that activity has been boosted completing a series of complementary acquisitions. This year saw the group seal its biggest deal yet when it acquired Greenwood Stock Boxes for £16.75m million.

Mr Paterson, who first joined the Macfarlane board as a non-executive director in 2013 (he has served as chairman of its audit committee since), said that deal is unlikely to be the last.

“Since the recession Peter, John (Love, finance director) have done a great job in putting the business on a really strong foundation to allow it to start doing some consolidation in what is a really fragmented sector,” he noted.

“I’ve been on the board for five years so I’m very familiar with the strategy, the combination of organic growth and acquisition, and focusing on sectors within that show great potential like e-retail, 3-PL (third party logistics), major industrial clients. I can’t see any radical or significant changes in that.”

By the time of the interview, Macfarlane’s preparations for the crucial festive period were all but complete. Given its increasing exposure to the e-commerce market, the fourth quarter of the year is now critical to its full-year results, with Mr Paterson noting that the days leading up to Christmas are pretty much all about fulfilling customers’ needs. And talking of those requirements, the packing solutions Macfarlane now supplies are not only becoming increasingly sophisticated in design terms, but efficient and secure too. The company has its own innovation lab, where customers can input into the packaging design process.

At present, Macfarlane does the bulk of its business in the UK. But it has been gradually building a presence on mainland Europe through its Novupak distribution alliance with Moonen and Boxon. That expansion has largely been driven by the needs of established customers as they have looked to build sales on the continent. For now, Novupak is the preferred model for growing sales in Europe, but Mr Paterson said the company would consider serving clients on a more direct basis in the longer term.

Meanwhile, as the Brexit talks rumble on, Mr Paterson notes the company has seen an increased in the price of raw materials such as paper and plastic partly because of sterling’s depreciation since the vote to leave the EU.

Asked what would be Mcfarlane’s preferred outcome from the withdrawal process, Mr Paterson replied that he would like trade to be as “frictionless” across Borders as possible after the UK leaves the EU. “You don’t want very significant customs Borders where goods are being stopped ether coming in or going out,” Mr Paterson said.

Mulling the broader outlook, he added: “I don’t think we are heading for recession, but it is fairly slow growth compared with what we were seeing a couple of years ago.”