BrewDog boss to hand over £120,000 shares to staff amid controversy 

Co-owner James Watt said he would hand over nearly a fifth of his stake in the business to salaried staff.

James Watt announces BrewDog will hand out £120,000 of shares to staff amid controversy Getty Images
BrewDog: Aberdeenshire craft beer company to reward staff to mark 15th anniversary.

BrewDog have announced plans to hand out shares worth £120,000 to staff over four years and launch a profit-sharing scheme for bar workers in the wake of claims the company fostered a “culture of fear”.

Co-owner and chief executive James Watt said he would hand over nearly a fifth of his stake in the craft beer firm to salaried employees to mark BrewDog’s 15th anniversary. 

Worth 3.7 million shares or a 5% shareholding in the company, the near-£100m award will be worth around £30,000 a year over four years to each eligible employee.

The move follows accusations that the Aberdeenshire-based brewing company had “toxic attitudes” towards staff. 

Last year, 60 employees published an open letter alleging the business was built upon a “cult of personality” around founders Mr Watt and Martin Dickie, with “growth at all costs” the overarching focus of the company.

They claimed a “significant number” of ex-employees suffered “mental illness” as a result of working at the group and were left “burnt out, afraid and miserable”.

However, Mr Watt said the decision to award the shares was not about mending relationships with employees, but “building the best company we possibly can”.

He said: “Everything we’re doing today is about looking forward with a fantastic team,” adding that the group wanted to create a “new type of business”.

“It will help with every element of our company – recruitment, retention and team engagement,” he continued. 

“Ultimately it’s about ownership. We want our team members to act as business owners and incentivise them as if they are business owners.”

Under the share scheme, salaried staff such as wholesale and manufacturing staff, bar and kitchen staff and so-called equity punk crowdfunding investors will own 25% of the company between them. 

Mr Watt’s stake in the business will reduce from 24.2% to 19.2% after awarding the shares, which will initially be held in an employee benefit trust.

In a first for the hospitality sector, the Scottish brewer is also launching a profit sharing scheme, allowing its 1500 hourly-paid bar staff to share half of the earnings from each bar, unveiled as part of a wider growth plan laid out by the group.

BrewDog said that based on last year’s numbers, this would pay out an extra £3000 to £5000 to each bar worker’s salary.

Under the profit sharing scheme, bar staff will receive the payouts twice a year as cash.

The shares scheme will start in June and will pay out each year for four years, but the stock will only vest once the group floats or if there is a sale or change of ownership, allowing staff to cash in only at that stage.

Mr Watt said the group was unlikely to float in the next 12 months given the market uncertainty, but said a listing was “very much part” part of the plan in the medium term, with an initial public offering (IPO) in 2023 a possibility.

Last year BrewDog brought in Co-op chairman and former Asda chief executive Allan Leighton as its chairman to help beef up governance ahead of an IPO.

Mr Watt said he hoped the reward schemes would act as a “blueprint for a new type of hospitality model”.