‘You have become a lightning rod for some of the worst attitudes present on both the internet and in real life’: BrewDog CEO James Watt under fire from ex-employees

James Watt, Co-founder of BrewDog - ranked 40th on the league table

James Watt, Co-founder of BrewDog

Former employees of craft beer giant BrewDog have today released a scathing attack on their former CEO James Watt and the company – revealing a ‘toxic’ working environment.

The letter from ‘Punks With Purpose’ from over 100 people previously involved with the company stated that there was a culture of ‘fear’ and that people’s mental wellbeing wasn’t taken seriously, in the face of ‘high-performance’ targets.

Within the letter, it detailed many elements of the issues with company culture: “BrewDog was, and is, built on a cult of personality. Since day one, you have sought to exploit publicity, both good and bad (and usually with the faces of James and Martin front and centre) to further your own business goals.

“Your mission might genuinely be to make other people as passionate about craft beer as you are (and in a sense you have succeeded – your fanbase certainly has some true zealots in its ranks), but the ambitions you impressed on your team have always seemed business-led. Growth, at all costs, has always been perceived as the number one focus for the company, and the fuel you have used to achieve it is controversy.

“In a post-truth world, you have allowed the ends to justify the means, time and time again. Lies, hypocrisy and deceit can be useful tools; PR campaigns repeated over and over on LinkedIn – until you actually believe them yourselves – is good for driving awareness, and if anyone questions the validity of your claims, you can simply move on to the next campaign.

“How many more times will we see the stories about sending protest beer to Russia (you didn’t), James and Martin changing their names to Elvis (they didn’t), awarding an Employee of the Month over a sweary can (which was not an accident and was actually approved for print by James), or offering Pawternity leave (which many staff are simply never permitted to take)? Worse, by placing personalities at the centre of your messaging, you have inflated egos and fostered a culture within craft beer that deifies founders, and gives weight to sexist and misogynistic brewers who claim to be standing up for free speech. You have become a lightning rod for some of the worst attitudes present on both the internet, and in real life.

It continued: “You spent years claiming you wanted to be the best employer in the world, presumably to help you to recruit top talent, but ask former staff what they think of those claims, and you’ll most likely be laughed at. Being treated like a human being was sadly not always a given for those working at BrewDog.”

And it wasnt just CEO Watt that received anger from the former employees, but the working environment at the brewery – both in the UK and the US.

The letter continued: “It doesn’t matter which part of the business we worked in; production, bartending, sales, operations, packaging, quality, marketing or HR, we all felt that in our day to day working lives, there were at best hurdles, and at worst genuine safety concerns. We felt that no matter how these were raised, the likelihood was we would be met with some variation on ‘that’s just the way things are’.

“Sometimes it was linked to James directly, sometimes it was because someone in a position of power felt enabled to act in such a manner. We believe these toxic attitudes towards junior staff trickled down throughout the business from day one, until they were simply an intrinsic part of the company. So many of us started our jobs there eagerly, already bought into the BrewDog ethos, only to very quickly discover that “fast-paced” meant “unmanageable”, and “challenging” meant “damaging”.

The letter continued to delve into how employees discovered that this could be exploited, and allow them to treat other staff however they liked without repercussions – making them feel belittled and/or pressured into working beyond their capacity, and often eventually feeling forced out of the business – because that was perceived as the way the company operated.

“Put bluntly, the single biggest shared experience of former staff is a residual feeling of fear. Fear to speak out about the atmosphere we were immersed in, and fear of repercussions even after we have left. Hell, the company once set up a staff committee, under the guise of assembling a team of well-respected individuals to tackle cross-departmental projects, who at their first meeting discovered the actual main task of the group was to address the culture of fear in the business.”

Many of the people behind the letter remained anonymous for fear of hearing from ‘BrewDog’s notoriously trigger-happy legal team’.

The remaining part of the message put the pressure on Watt to respond.

“James, this next passage is for you. It is with you that the responsibility for this rotten culture lies. Your attitude and actions are at the heart of the way BrewDog is perceived, from both inside and out. By valuing growth, speed and action above all else, your company has achieved incredible things, but at the expense of those who delivered your dreams. In the wake of your success are people left burnt out, afraid and miserable. The true culture of BrewDog is, and seemingly always has been, fear.”

Reponse from James Watt, CEO of BrewDog