A Brewdog co-founder has vowed to listen to and learn from fierce criticism of the beer company by 60 ex-employees.
James Watt told the BBC that claims of a “culture of fear” and “toxic attitude” were hard to hear, but said they would help make him a better chief executive.
In an open letter, the signatories said a “significant number” of former employees had “suffered from mental illness as a result of their work at Brewdog.”
Mr Watt said it was clear that some things went wrong: “We sincerely apologize.”
In the letter, the ex-employee claimed the company was built around a “personality cult” of founders Mr. Watt and Martin Dickie.
The fast growing Scottish brewery and pub chain has seen rapid success and now employs 2,000 people. But it has also sparked controversy with its marketing and business decisions.
The letter, posted on Twitter, contained a number of allegations, including a culture where staff were afraid to speak out about their concerns.
He said Mr. Watt and Mr. Dickie had exploited advertising, “both good and bad”, to pursue their own business goals and pursued “growth, at all costs”.
He added: “You spent years pretending you wanted to be the best employer in the world, probably to help you recruit the best talent, but ask former employees what they think of those demands, and you you will probably laugh at yourself.
“Being treated like a human being was unfortunately not always easy for those who work at Brewdog.”
In his BBC interview, Mr Watt said: “It’s very clear, looking at the comments, we don’t always get things here.
“We have to see this comeback as an opportunity to improve ourselves. We have to learn, we have to act. We have to take it on the chin.”
Mr Watt did not confirm whether the allegations were true, but said: “For me, this is not about contesting individual claims. But 60 people were unhappy and we need to improve. This is the only one. way to get something good out of this situation. “
One of the many criticisms was that Brewdog management applied a culture of fear, with staff afraid to speak out – even after they left.
Mr. Watt admitted that the company’s rapid growth has been a steep learning curve. “But the money stops with me. I’ll use [the criticism] to be a better CEO and a better leader. “
He said the company would embark on a series of anonymous surveys of current staff “and organize listeners.”
However, Brewdog’s rapid expansion – the source of most of the problems, former staff say – would continue, he said: “It’s not about slowing growth, because it’s is in our DNA. “
The challenge now would be how Brewdog can maintain the intensity of its expansion, “while still being a better employer,” he said.
Brewdog started in 2007 passionate about craft beer and despising rival big brewers. He became at least as passionate about growth, through unconventional “punk” ways.
So far there is a large brewery in Aberdeenshire, as well as others in Berlin, Brisbane and Columbus, Ohio. There are over 100 Brewdog bars dotted around the world map. And a new project is beer-themed hotels in Ohio, Manchester and Edinburgh.
This was funded by the sale of much of the business to private equity and several rounds of crowdfunding. The Aberdeen AGM has become something of a party.
But it seems the thirsty combined passion for beer advertising and growth has been deadly. Every employer has disgruntled ex-employees. Usually, when dispersed, they moan in their beer. But in this case, these former staff signatories took their passion for beer and applied it to improving working conditions in their industry.
Co-founder James Watt concedes that he hasn’t always “done things right”. He gave up the usual combative challenge. His response is sanctioned, acknowledging that the accusations could be brand damaging and recruiting.
He had great success in inviting drinkers to buy products infused with people’s passion for beer. So it goes against the values of clubby camaraderie. Repairing the damage will take more nuance than Brewdog usually deploys.