BrewDog CEO: “I’m sorry for the pain… and PR mistakes that were detrimental to our culture”

James Watt, the BrewDog co-founder and chief executive, has apologised to staff and promised to overhaul the brewer's culture amid allegations of “lies, hypocrisy and deceit”, “inflated egos” and “misogyny and sexism” from former employees.

BrewDog founders Martin Dickie and James Watt. Watt has ordered an independent review into the company's culture. (Photo: Getty Images)
BrewDog founders Martin Dickie and James Watt. Watt has ordered an independent review into the company's culture. (Photo: Getty Images)

The BrewDog boss has written a candid open letter accepting blame for mistakes that have tarnished the culture and neglected “many important people elements of our business”.

Watt is facing the biggest crisis of his BrewDog career following a strongly worded open letter from former employees that accused him of becoming “a lightning rod for some of the worst attitudes present on both the internet, and in real life”.

Among the allegations, the former employees said Watt had become obsessed by years of “vanity projects”, citing several PR campaigns, and had overseen a “culture of fear” that included “toxic attitudes towards junior staff” and leaving “a significant number of people having suffered mental illness as a result of working at BrewDog”.

In his response, Watt said he was “ultimately responsible”, “100 per cent at fault” and that he was “sorry”.

“I know the events from the last few days have caused a lot of pain for all of our team members and our community and I can only apologise for that,” Watt said in a LinkedIn post.

“I want to be very candid about some mistakes that I have made that have detrimentally impacted our culture. In the hard and fast environment of high growth, I have all too often neglected many important people elements of our business.

"Furthermore, despite surviving COVID-19 due to a phenomenal effort from our amazing team I had to make some very hard decisions to ensure our survival and these decisions have taken a considerable human toll on our business and had a negative impact.

“Additionally, some PR mistakes that I have made in our past have also had a detrimental impact on culture. I can promise that I will not make these mistakes again.”

Watt has previously written about BrewDog’s PR mistakes, which he cited as including its Pink IPA campaign, a trademark dispute with a bar called Lone Wolf, hiring an expensive team of senior executives, a label held using a rubber band, and not controlling comms over its failed partnership with US brewer Scofflaw, which involved a “rogue press release” that promised free beer to supporters of Donald Trump.

The chief executive has promised a sweeping independent review of BrewDog’s culture, including anonymous staff surveys, annual pay reviews, a review of the organisational structure, exit interviews, career development and training, and the establishment of an employee representative group.

Last week PRWeek UK editor John Harrington warned that the brewer needed to "show humility and demonstrate the concrete steps it is taking to address the serious concerns raised by former employees".

He added: "The episode is also a clear lesson about the importance of internal comms in the modern era. For a company built on superb external PR and marketing, it's somewhat ironic that dissatisfaction from within has caused its biggest reputational crisis to date."

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