Disgruntled former employees of craft beer brand BrewDog have shared a scathing open letter slamming the company for its ‘toxic attitudes’ and accusing it of fostering a ‘culture of fear’ among staff.
Penned by a group called ‘Punks With Purpose’, the letter features a list of 63 names of people who used to work for the firm, and takes aim at the Scotland-based brewery’s founders James Watt and Martin Dickie.
It claims the company is ‘built on a cult of personality’ and alleges that it left some staff feeling ‘burnt out, afraid and miserable’, adding that ‘a significant number of people have admitted they have suffered mental illness’ as a result of working there.
It goes so far as to claim being treated like a human being ‘was sadly not always a given’ for those employed by BrewDog – trashing the image of the hipster company which offers ‘pawternity leave’ if a staff member gets a dog and pays employees £500 to quit if they don’t feel they’re a good fit.
The open letter was shared on Twitter yesterday, where it’s attracted more than 8,100 likes and 2,333 retweets.
Disgruntled former employees of hipster craft beer brand BrewDog have shared a scathing open letter slamming the company for its ‘toxic attitudes’ and accusing it of fostering a ‘culture of fear’ among staff (pictured: its founders Martin Dickie and James Watt in April last year)
Writing collectively as a group called ‘Punks With Purpose’, the letter features a list of names of people who used to work for the firm, and takes aim at the Scotland-based brewery’s founders
A letter in response reportedly drafted by the company’s ‘people team’ which brands the claims made by Punks With Purpose ‘demeaning’ – and urges current staff members to sign it by 10:30am – is now circulating on social media, with a number of users criticising its ‘hostile’ tone.
Mr Watt subsequently issued an ‘update’ on the Punks With Purpose open letter, describing it as ‘so upsetting, but so important’. He said: ‘Our focus now is not on contradicting or contesting the details of that letter, but to listen, learn and act.’
He also tweeted that the suggestion it was he who sent round the counter letter which ‘dismissed the deeply-held fears of current and former staff’ was ‘untrue’, stressing: ‘The email came from our people team, not myself. The letter is drafted by our teams who feel it is important to make their voice heard too.’
MailOnline contacted BrewDog for comment and received a copy of Mr Watt’s public statement.
The open letter was shared on Twitter yesterday, where it’s attracted more than 8,100 likes and 2,263 retweets. The letter was signed by 61 former employees, plus ’45 and counting who did not feel safe to include their names or initials’
The Punks With Purpose letter opens by addressing recent claims of sexism, discrimination and sexual harassment and abuse made by women working in the craft beer industry.
It states its purpose is to make known the feelings of former staff regarding ‘the atmosphere fostered at BrewDog, since its inception, in the hope that it might explain why so many allegations have come to light’.
‘BrewDog was, and is, built on a cult of personality,’ it reads. ‘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.
A letter in response reportedly drafted by the company’s ‘people team’ which brands the claims made by Punks With Purpose ‘demeaning’ – and urges current staff members to sign it by 10:30am – is now circulating on social media, with a number of users criticising its ‘hostile’ tone
The ‘crew member’ email response urges current staff members to sign it by 10:30am – it’s now circulating on social media, with a number of users criticising its ‘hostile’ tone
Mr Watt tweeted that the suggestion it was he who sent round this counter letter which ‘dismissed the deeply-held fears of current and former staff’ was ‘untrue’, stressing: ‘The email came from our people team, not myself. The letter is drafted by our teams who feel it is important to make their voice heard too.’
CHILDHOOD FRIENDS WHO NOW OWN A £620MILLION STAKE IN BREWDOG
Mr Watt, pictured right with business partner Martin Dickie, issued an official statement this morning saying BrewDog is ‘sorry’ and is going to ‘take action’ rather than ‘make excuses’
The Aberdeen-born founders of BrewDog, James Watt, 38, and Martin Dickie, started up their own brewery at the age of 24 on an industrial estate in 2007. They decided on the name because Mr Watt’s father Jim had recently got a puppy.
According to Forbes, Mr Watt’s 24 per cent stake in the company is worth around £338million, while Mr Dickie’s 20 per cent stake is worth around £282m.
Mr Watt, who is married with two daughters, is now CEO and has very much been the face of the company since its inception. He comes from a family of fishermen and used to help his father on his fishing boat in the North Sea. On his LinkedIn profile he claims to be a ‘fully qualified deep sea captain’.
He graduated from Edinburgh University with a degree in law and economics. After landing a job as a trainee solicitor he quit after two weeks and, three years later, started BrewDog with Mr Dickie.
The business struggled at first but took off when, after around six months, Tesco placed an order to sell its beer across the country.
In 2014, Mr Watt won Great British Entrepreneur of the Year, and in 2016 he was awarded an MBE.
Mr Dickiem also a father, has kept a quieter public profile than his business partner – though he did ride an Abbott 433 tank through Camden in north London to mark the opening of their first bar in England.
The pair grew up as best friends and became flatmates when they both lived in Edinburgh.
He studied distilling at Heriot-Watt and spent several years after graduating working in a variety of distilleries and breweries across the UK, including Thornbridge Brewery in Derbyshire.
In December Mr Dickie launched his own CBD brand – HBHM – which stands for Happy Body Happy Mind.
‘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.’
The letter alleges that several of BrewDog’s famous PR campaigns – including the founders both changing their names to Elvis, sending ‘protest beer to Russia’ and offering its employees ‘pawternity leave’ when they get a pet – were built on ‘lies, hypocrisy and deceit’.
It goes on: ‘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.’
The letter claims that employees from all departments within the business, from production and bartending to marketing and HR have signed the letter, because they felt that in their day to day working lives there were ‘at best hurdles, and at worst genuine safety concerns’.
An email from Mr Watt to the BrewDog team in response to the Punks With Purpose tweet was also shared on social media
‘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”,’ it argues. ‘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.’
It adds that many of them started their jobs there having eagerly bought into the BrewDog ethos, but discovered that ‘fast paced’ meant ‘unmanageable’ and ‘challenging’ meant ‘demanding’.
It alleges that some senior staff members ‘belittled’ others beneath them and ‘pressured them into working beyond their capacity’ to the point where they eventually felt ‘forced out of the business’.
It claims the single biggest shared experience of former staff is ‘a residual feeling of fear’, both of the atmosphere and the repercussions if they were to speak out. It claimed ‘many’ felt unable to sign the letter because doing so would ‘leave them feeling extremely vulnerable’.
The Punks With Purpose open letter states that many of the ex-employees started their jobs having eagerly bought into the BrewDog ethos, but discovered that ‘fast paced’ meant ‘unmanageable’ and ‘challenging’ meant ‘demanding’ (pictured: the BrewDog bar in Shoreditch, London)
The letter then personally accuses Mr Watt for being responsible for the company’s ‘rotten culture’, claiming in the wake of his success are people ‘left burnt out, afraid and miserable’. It ends by demanding a ‘genuine apology’ for the people who felt they were ‘harassed, assaulted, belittled, insulted or gaslighted’.
Mr Watt issued an official statement this morning saying BrewDog is ‘sorry’ and is going to ‘take action’ rather than ‘make excuses’.
Dragons’ Den investors turned down best deal in show’s history when they refused to put £100K into Brewdog that would ‘now be worth £360m’
In March, CEO and co-founder of BrewDog Mr Watt, 38, claimed his plea for investment turned down by Dragons’ Den 13 years ago would now be worth £360m – the best deal in the programme’s history.
He said they ‘pitched our hearts out’ to the BBC show in 2008 but only got as far as the screen test before he was rejected by producers.
The craft beer company was just two years old at the time, and along with business partner Martin Dickie, he asked for £100,000 for 20 per cent of the business.
But he has now revealed a recent valuation of the brew company means the Dragons’ missed investment would now be worth a staggering £360 million. Writing on LinkedIn, he said: ‘In 2008 we applied to Dragons’ Den & got as far as a screen test and we pitched our hearts out before the producers rejected us.
‘They deemed Martin and myself not investment worthy – we were totally crushed. Based on our latest BrewDog valuation, that investment would be now worth almost £360m. That means the Dragons missed out on by far the best deal in Den history.’
James said their pitch was rejected because it ‘was not unique enough, special enough or with enough growth potential to make the grade’.
‘At BrewDog our people are our main priority, which is why the open letter we saw on Twitter was so upsetting, but so important,’ it said.
‘Our focus now is not on contradicting or contesting the details of that letter, but to listen, learn and act.
‘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. 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.’
But an internal letter reportedly sent to employees today carried a significantly different tone, branding the open letter’s contents ‘demeaning’ to current staff members and calling it a ‘threat to all of our livelihoods’.
It then urges staff to reply to the email with a ‘yes’ by 10:30am if they ‘agree with the content’ and are happy to add their name to a ‘crew reply’ in response, which opens with ‘wow’.
It goes on: ‘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 how ballsy, articulate and determined each of you are – that’s what we liked about you when you worked at BrewDog.
‘So when we think about those days when you were part of the BrewDog crew, we remember them for the impact each of you had in making us the business we are now, and we’re grateful for it.
‘We know that some of you parted on bad terms, and sometimes that was because of something BrewDog did, and somteimes it was the other way around. It’s a universal truth that there are two sides to every story, and the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, and never more is that true that in the relationship between BrewDog and some of its former crew.’
It states that the current crew ‘doesn’t accept’ that BrewDog is a ‘bad business or place to work’, and claims doing so ‘isn’t just wrong, it’s actually a bit demeaning, and a bit hurtful,’.
It adds: ‘Your direct appeal to us is touching, but you know what? We don’t need to be saved. Your letter doesn’t speak for us,’ before concluding: ‘We’re actually really touched that you care enough to speak up and reach out to us like this – we value your opinions. But we always did.
‘In the words of Elvis (Presley, not Watt or Dickie – that story WAS real by the way), maybe we didn’t love you quite as often as we could have. But you were always on our minds.’
Many Twitter users came out in support of the BrewDog employees who issued the open letter, and criticised the crew reply for ‘pressurising’ employees into signing it.
Many Twitter users came out in support of the BrewDog employees who issued the open letter, and criticised the crew reply for ‘pressurising’ employees into signing it
One tweeted: ‘This has real “I’m happy and absolutely not a hostage” vibes,’ while another commented: ‘Subtext, “sign this letter of you may lose your job” Lovely.’
And one wrote: ‘F***. That whole thing reads like a trap. Reply yes by 10:30 or get added to a list of sympathisers. I mean, maybe it’s well intentioned and they genuinely want to listen to staff & improve the working environment but there are a lot of red flags to my mind.’
‘So no pressure, reply YES otherwise we’ll have a clear list of people who don’t agree with us and your career prospects will be dead,’ tweeted another.
According to BrewDog’s ‘crewprint’ from August 2019, which lists the perks for working at the company, staff who feel the company isn’t right for them after their induction are offered £500 to quit.
‘We want crew members who passionately want to work for us and who believe in our culture and our values,’ it states.
It’s not the first time the beer company has sparked controversy; in 2016 it served 55 per cent proof beer in bottles made from stuffed stoats and squirrels. The stunt was slammed by Advocates for Animals as a ‘perverse idea’ and ‘stupid marketing gimmick’.