BrewDog chief commissions culture consultancy firm, Wiser, for independent review of the company's internal practices

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

James Watt, the Co-founder of Brewdog has appointed culture consultancy firm wiser to conduct a review of the company's internal practices and says "steady Progress" is being made to address the "toxic culture" called out by ex-employees last month.

As well as a 3% salary increase for all employees having joined the company prior to January 1st 2021, the company's chief revealed a list of reformative measures being undertaken internally at Brewdog.

In a LinkedIn post, he confirmed that Wiser would indeed be carrying out a "full, unbiased" review of the company, promising to share the findings internally and externally before the end of the year.

He also said that the findings of an anonymous staff survey, also conducted externally by free-text survey app Opinyin, would be fed back to the review, calling it "one of the key steps on our way to making BrewDog a place to work that we can be truly proud of." 

In addition, he noted that a structural review of the company had made it "immediately apparent that we are under-resourced in certain areas," promising to recruit 100 people to catch-up with the increase in output that the company has seen in the past year.

"The recruitment process is already well underway," he said, "and we are confident this will make a material difference very quickly to those colleagues who have been under pressure."

Additional measures will include an elected employee representative group, he said, "to ensure that our crew have a clear voice and connection to the decisions we take as a business;" exit interviews of people who have left the company in the past twelve months; a review of the company's international benefits scheme, carried out by Mercer Marsh Benefits so that "every BrewDog crew member to enjoy the brilliant benefits we offer, no matter which country they work in;" and software provider NAVEX Global will be placed in charge of a new ethics hotline "to enable any employee in any country to report in absolute confidence any allegation of misconduct."

Finally, he said: "We want to be an employer for which our amazing team are truly proud to work, and we believe the actions we have taken - as well as those we are still working on - will help us meet that objective.

"Our priorities now are to listen, to learn, and to take the actions required to address the issues that have been raised. We are far from the finished article and are still learning as we go. We will continue to keep you updated as we deliver on the actions we set out in June."


Last month, James Watt he issued an apology on social media promising that the company was "committed to doing better" after more than 75 ex-staff members signed an open letter accusing the Scottish brewing company of fostering a culture of fear. 

He said he was "ultimately responsible for the culture of our business", and admitting to having "all too often neglected many important people elements of our business."

"I can't possibly have all the answers at the moment but my commitment to my team is that I am going to throw my heart and soul into working with them to fix these issues."

As well as an anonymous staff survey, he said, they would appoint an "independent agency to conduct a review of our culture and people practices to ensure we can make positive and inclusive change at all levels of our business." 

The BrewDog chief also conceded that some elements of the business had become "too lean" and that a separate structure review would look at this "to identify the key pinch points and put a plan in place to properly resource these areas."

The Punks With Purpose group at the origin of the open letter shared James' forum post, and said they "sincerely hope [it] to be genuine, and not further spin and PR."

The letter

The letter calling out the "toxic" internal practices at BrewDog read: "In the last few weeks, we have witnessed what will hopefully be the start of major change in the beer industry," a shift it credits to "the brave acts of many people coming to tell their stories, as well as others who have not only shouldered the responsibility for amplifying these stories, but also the enormous burden of the inevitable backlash unleashed upon them for daring to raise their heads above the parapet." 

As a company, it claimed, BrewDog has been flagged "in a significant number of allegations," which the authors of the letter choose not to specifiy, "because quite frankly we cannot risk the wrath of BrewDog's notoriously trigger-happy legal team." 

The purpose of the letter, it said, was rather to call out a culture which it says "has allowed the ends to justify the means," creating PR campaigns to give the company - and specifically its two founders, James Watt and Martin Dickie - the image of a great employer, of being a company driven by strong core values. 

In the course of striving to grow the company, it said, people across all branches of the business were forced to deal with "at best hurdles, and at worst genuine safety concerns." 

"So many of us started our job there eagerly," it continued, "only to discover that 'fast-paced' meant 'unmanageable' and 'challenging' meant 'damaging.'"

Not only this, it claimed, but this culture was exploited by certain members of staff, who used it to climb the ranks "as someone loyal to James and his preferred ways of working." 

"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."

The letter then called out James Watt directly, and said: "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." 

Finally, it addressed people still working for the company, calling on them to rise up against the pressures being placed on them. 

"Being told to ignore health and safety guidelines? Don't. Someone's demanding you send beer to an event in the USA by bypassing customs? Nope. We know sometimes it feels as though you are part of something bigger, something special and unique, but ask yourself, is that worth the shit you have to deal with?" 

It ended by saying that "now is the time for genuine, meaningful change at BrewDog," and more than simple gestures, "we mean starting with a genuine apology from anyone and everyone who has worked for BrewDog and treated people like objects; harassing, assaulting, belittling, insulting or gaslighting them." 

'The BrewDog Crew' response

Following the publication of the letter, the Punks With Purpose group posted an email sent to remaining employees at BrewDog, insisting that "we aren't looking to dismiss the concerns raised in this open letter," instead calling on them to contact their HR teams, line managers and managers to discuss them. 

It also contained the company's response to the Punks for Purpose letter, asking remaining staff to sign it, because, it said, "we cannot remain quiet when we know that creating a public perception of BrewDog being a bad place to work could potentially jeopardise job security." 

The response reads: "We hear you. Loud and clear. And honestly, we're a little surprised, and sad, that working at BrewDog left such a negative impression on you. But we're a little bit proud too, because reading your letter reminded us of how ballsy, determined and articulate each of you are - and that's what we liked about you when you worked at BrewDog."

Calling the suggestion that BrewDog is a bad place to work "wrong" and "a bit demeaning," it added: "Your direct appeal to us is touching, but you know what? We don't need to be saved."

"We know your concerns are genuine, but your experiences aren't the same as ours, and your experience paints a different picture to what it's like to work for BrewDog today."

James Watts' response

Finally, co-founder James Watt put out a response on his social media feed, where he said: “I wanted to give you all an update in light of the recent Punks With Purpose open letter.

"At BrewDog, we are focused on building the best business we can, which is why the open letter we saw on Twitter was so upsetting, but so important. Our focus now is not on contradicting or contesting the details of that letter, but to listen, learn and act."

"As a fast-growing business, we have always tried to do the best by our team – we do have thousands of employees with positive stories to tell as a result. 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."

"But most of all, right now, we are sorry. 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. We aren’t going to make excuses, we’re going to take action. From our commitment to sustainability to our passion for beer, BrewDog has always been defined by taking responsibility and continually improving. This is no exception.”

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 15th July 2021

BrewDog chief commissions culture consultancy firm, Wiser, for independent review of the company's internal practices