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Market that one, James Watt

The BBC’s new Disclosure documentary is good reason to avoid BrewDog’s CEO if you see him in Aberdeen

By Aidan Bridgeman

Image courtesy of Bernt Rostad via Flickr

BrewDog has a unique position in the beer market. It’s seemingly cracked cool bars in the city and quaint pubs in towns and villages. It has managed to market itself as a staple go-to drink, but also a twist to any night out. It competed for the same market as Heineken, Tennent’s, Carling, Stella, and others, but did not offer the same product. The laddish humour and outrageous marketing stunts won the hearts of many beer lovers and beer casuals alike. James Watt, the CEO of BrewDog, has proved over the past few days that his brand follows in his own footsteps. Toxic and manipulative.

The documentary uncovered that over 300 BrewDog employees, mainly former ones, had signed a letter last year detailing the ‘toxic culture of fear’ inside BrewDog, directly created by Watt himself. Jobs were threatened if staff spoke out or even attempted to follow correct legislation, at times. Worst of all, however, are the findings in the BBC programme around the CEO’s behaviour towards female employees and customers.

‘The Truth about BrewDog’ documentary covers up to twelve interviews, mainly with staff of BrewDog breweries or bars in the USA, who accused James Watt of inappropriate behaviour and abuse of power from his position as CEO.

What’s usually disgusting behaviour from anyone is made all the more abhorrent and vile from someone in a position of power. Worse yet, abuse of power and sexual advances didn’t come from colleagues at BrewDog, not from line managers, not from regional managers, but from the head of the entire company.

Women in the documentary detailed accounts of James Watt kissing drunk customers, taking women on tours of bars and breweries while flirting with them or making other advances. Managerial staff and executives alike thrived in the toxic culture that allowed for them, without protest, to make inappropriate comments towards women and often fire them on the spot for no reason. Male staff also had their say in the documentary, stating that often they would stay after shifts to accompany female staff when the CEO was in town. More generally, managers tried to limit working hours for women and told them to not wear makeup or do their hair on the days Watt was visiting. They would also get more men working instead of women to negate any unwelcome attention from Watt towards female employees. Watt would take female employees' phones and add himself on Instagram to start messaging them directly outside of work hours, too.

Much of the focus of the documentary concluded on Watt himself, but it must be stressed that he has fostered the same toxic atmosphere and behaviour pattern that occurs throughout the entire company. Both in the US and UK, staff have reported that aggressive behaviour and lacklustre working conditions are not uncommon.

In the documentary, nothing was concretely stuck to James Watt. Nothing criminal, at least. The words of the women in the interviews, however, speak volumes. The story here shouldn’t be around the misbehaviour of James Watt, but really the bravery of the women speaking out. Some of them were still employed by BrewDog, knowing all too well that their job was on the line. Of course, it’d be easy to argue that they should go through the proper misconduct reporting procedures, but this is impossible at BrewDog. There are no effective procedures. Moreover, there is no effective leadership at the company to tackle these issues. They have come up before in the past, not just in this recent documentary. It’s a trend.

Since this news broke, James Watt has come out saying he is going to sue the BBC. Naturally, he denies all allegations made as well.

I’m not totally sure where the BrewDog CEO lives or hangs out. He apparently jets around a lot to the States and back. Some things online say he lives in Ellon; some others, like his Twitter, say he lives in Aberdeen. Anyway, should you see this womaniser around town, I wouldn’t blame you for crossing the road. Oh, and apparently don’t do your makeup or hair unless you want attention from this control freak, hipster, flat cap weirdo.


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