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Craft beer brewer BrewDog accused of being 'cult of personality' with a 'culture of fear'

·4-min read
Brewdog co-founders James Watt (R) and Martin Dicke. Photo: AP
Brewdog co-founders James Watt, right, and Martin Dickie. Photo: AP

Over 100 former employees at Scottish craft beer maker BrewDog have written an open letter on Twitter accusing the company of being “a cult of personality” and detailing an alleged toxic environment.

CEO and co-founder James Watt told Yahoo Finance the letter was "upsetting, but so important".

"Our focus now is not on contradicting or contesting the details of that letter, but to listen, learn and act," he said, adding: "We are sorry."

The letter, posted on Twitter on Wednesday, said “being treated like a human being” at the firm “was sadly not always a given”. It claimed employees were harassed, assaulted, belittled, insulted and gaslighted. Watt was called out by name: “It is with you that the responsibility for this rotten culture lies.”

Among other things, the letter alleged that BrewDog, which has been valued at about $2bn (£1.4bn), has a “toxic attitudes towards junior staff” that “trickled down throughout the business from day one, until they were simply an intrinsic part of the company".

A culture of fear was also prevelant: “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.”

The post also called out some of the company's famous marketing strategies: "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)."

The first reference was to BrewDog launching a beer in 2014 called Hello My Name is Vladimir. The firm said the ale was the world’s first ‘protest beer’, aiming to support LGBT communities in light of Russia banning homosexual propaganda.

BrewDog claimed to have sent a case of the limited edition beer to Russia's president Vladimir Putin.

Earlier this year, several publications said the company was under fire for allegedly firing female and LGBTQ employees.

Brewdog's founders promoting their Russian 'protest beer'. Photo: Brewdog
Brewdog's founders promoting their Russian 'protest beer'. Photo: Brewdog

The second marketing campaign referred to in the letter was when the founders apparently legally changed their names to Elvis because Elvis Presley’s estate had taken issue with one of their beers, Elvis Juice.

Forbes' profile of Brewdog's founders last year noted: "It’s stunts like these — and a penchant for bending the rules — that have turned Aberdeenshire, Scotland-based BrewDog into a cult brand."

"At BrewDog we are focussed on building the best business we can. We have always tried to do the best by our team — we do have many thousands of employees with positive stories to tell as a result," Watt told Yahoo Finance.

"But the tweet we saw last night proves that on many occasions we haven’t got it right. We are committed to doing better, not just as a reaction to this, but always; and we are going to reach out to our entire team past and present to learn more.

Read more: BrewDog announces plans for a 'beer hotel' in Edinburgh

"It’s hard to hear those comments, but it must have been harder to say them. We appreciate that and we will endeavour to honour that effort and courage with the real change it deserves."

In a note posted on Twitter by the same account that published the letter, Punks for Purpose, Watt said the "fast paced and intense environment" at Brewdog "is definitely not for everyone, but many of our fantastic longterm team members have thrived in our culture. Our culture is built on rewarding and developing great people and focussing on growing our business."

Meanwhile, the open letter added that there is “not one amongst us who feels entirely safe signing this letter.” Around 60 former staff members chose to put their names down, while some 45 chose to stay anonymous.

The letter asked Watt to work on “genuine, meaningful change”, while telling current employees to “push back” if they found an issue at work was impacting their mental health.

The letter has been retweeted over 28,000 times on Twitter.

Watch: Trouble brewing? BrewDog CEO on trade hurdles and pandemic challenges

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