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James Watt: who is BrewDog chief executive and what did former staff say about his behaviour in BBC programme?

The allegations made in the new BBC documentary come after Punks with Purpose exposed a ‘culture of fear’ within the company last year

James Watt, the CEO and co-founder of BrewDog, has been accused of “inappropriate behaviour” in a new BBC investigative documentary.

The fresh set of accusations comes months after hundreds of current and ex-BrewDog employees signed an open letter exposing a “culture of fear” and “misogyny” within the company.

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This is everything you need to know.

Who is James Watt

James Watt is the co-founder, alongside Martin Dickie, of BrewDog, a brewery and pub chain which was founded in Fraserburg, Scotland, in 2007.

Watt shared a flat with Dickie while he attended the University of Edinburgh, where he eventually earned a degree in law and economics. Dickie meanwhile studied distilling at Heriot Watt University.

Upon graduating, Watt secured a job as a trainee solicitor, undertaking in-house legal responsibilities - but he ended up leaving after just two weeks.

James Watt (centre) with Martin Dickie (left) and Adam Stotsky from Esquire (Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Esquire)

He decided to follow in his fathers footsteps and gained his captain’s qualifications, becoming the captain of a fishing vessel.

At 24, Watt and Dickie entered into the beer market, starting with small batches and filling bottles by hand before eventually expanding wider. By its second year in production, BrewDog became Scotand’s largest independent brewery.

Chief Executive of BrewDog, Watt has largely been the face of the company over the years while Dickie has kept more to behind the scenes.

What’s the BBC Disclosure documentary?

The Truth About BrewDog is a BBC One documentary from its Disclosure series. The hour long documentary aired on BBC One Scotland on Monday 24 January and is currently still available to watch on the BBC iPlayer.

In the programme, reporter Mark Daly set out to investigate “the truth behind the company’s marketing and financial hype” and during the show he hears “disturbing claims about BrewDog’s corporate culture”.

In 2021, former BrewDog staff members created the collective Punks with Purpose, and issued an open letter on behalf of over 300 former and current BrewDog employees which exposed a “culture of fear” and “sexism and misogyny” within the company.

The documentary comes after an investigation was launched into the company (Photo: Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

Within a couple of days of the open letter being published, BrewDog issued a commitment to Punks with Purpose to address the concerns and issues raised.

Shortly after the open letter was published, the Disclosure team started its investigation against the company, according to the BBC.

In The Truth About BrewDog, more than 15 former BrewDog employees spoke out against Watt, with former BrewDog USA workers claiming that Watt’s behaviour made female bartenders feel “uncomfortable” and “powerless”.

What were the allegations made against James Watt?

BrewDog currently has more than 100 bars, and employs more than 2,000 staff worldwide. It opened its first bar in the US in 2016, and now has eight sites across three states.

In the documentary, 12 American former employees spoke out against Watt.

Katelyn Ising, who worked at BrewDog’s flagship bar and brewery in Ohio, said that staff members would warn new female employees about Watt.

She said: “We would make a point to warn new girls… like, “Hey, just so you know, James Watt’s coming to town. Just kind of, like, leave after your shift, don’t really hang around, don’t always do your hair and makeup that day, like don’t catch his attention”.”

A number of former and current staff members spoke out in the programme (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Dylan Gray, who was a manager at a BrewDog in Columbus, told the programme: “I would schedule certain female staff around [Watt]... so they would not be there.

“I would schedule more men at nights when he was there. I would sit… behind the bar with female staff so they wouldn’t feel uncomfortable.”

Duty manager Nathan Quick, who worked in BrewDog’s Franklinton bar until last year, is one of two former staff who said that they witnessed Watt having a sexual encounter on the roof terrace bar.

Quick said: “He was on the rooftop kissing with his hand up the shirt of this young lady… It wasn’t uncommon for us to have the perception that that was going on, but for us to physically see it… was something else.”

Kayla McGuire, who still works in the brewery in Ohio, also spoke out.

She said: “I don’t think that leaders should be able to intimidate their staff… I don’t [think] anyone should have to go to work and be afraid of what’s going to happen to them, especially not in an industry that should be joyful and fun and creative.”

What did James Watt’s lawyer say about the claims?

Regarding the claims made in the documentary, Watts’ lawyer said that the BrewDog CEO “categorically denied” any inappropriate behaviour.

Addressing the claim that Gray purposefully avoided scheduling female partners in order to shield them from Watt, his lawyer said: “This is categorically denied. At no time has Mr Watt given unwelcome attention to any female bartender. That account is not true… this was fully investigated by Centric HC who concluded that there was no substance to these claims.”

His lawyer added that, following enquiries by BrewDog, none of the managers that had been interviewed had any knowledge of staff trying to change shifts in order to avoid Watt.

Watt’s lawyer said that there was ‘no substance to these claims’ (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Speaking about the alleged sexual encounter on roof terrace bar, his lawyer said: “At no time did Mr. Watt have a sexual encounter on the roof terrace of the Franklinton bar.

“We hold a statement from the only party that Mr Watt could have been present with at the Franklinton Bar. She has confirmed in her statement that Mr Watt and her did visit the roof briefly, but absolutely no sexual encounter took place.

“She has also confirmed that far from being intoxicated; she drove herself home that evening.”

Mr Watt’s lawyer said that they “hold a statement from the manager of BrewDog Franklinton, that it has never been reported to him, nor does he have any knowledge of Mr. Watt ever having any kind of sexual encounter with someone on the rooftop bar.”

How has James Watt responded?

At 7pm on Monday 24 January, Watt tweeted: “The BBC published claims which are totally false & they published them despite the extensive evidence we provided to demonstrate that they were false.

“Reluctantly, I am now forced to take legal action against the BBC to protect my reputation.”

Watt turned off replies for the tweet meaning that users can’t reply to him directly, however quote tweets are still permitted.

The majority of those quote tweeting the statement criticised Watt, with one person writing: “”Protect my reputation” Your workers are organising against the toxic workplace and there is deep rooted misogyny protect them [sic] you pr**k.”

Another wrote: “You’re done mate. You should have listened to your workers and their union. You should have implemented what we demanded six months ago.”

Another tweeted: “What reputation?? S**t beer, s**t company, s**t attitude #BrewDog.”

“Reality: “I’m rightly being called out, and am terrified of finally having to deal with the consequences”.” wrote another.

What has BrewDog said?

Allan Leighton, Chairman of BrewDog, released a statement on 25 January in response to The Truth about BrewDog.

Leighton said that, following the open letter from 2021, BrewDog has “overseen a major independent review into our culture, which included reaching out to all signatories and all leavers over the past 12 months” and that a “wide-ranging action plan to address the issues raised” has been implemented.

He apologised to former BrewDog members, and added that “to those who felt strongly enough about their experience to participate in the programme, we urge them to get in touch with our HR Team or use our independent ethics hotline so we can listen and act”.

BrewDog Chairman Allan Leighton said that any allegations of misconduct are ‘taken extremely seriously’ (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Leighton said: “Any allegations of impropriety are taken extremely seriously.

“James has provided full assurance that the BBC’s claims are not accurate and are based on rumour and misinformation. Where a complaint was raised in the US, these were fully investigated by an external third party and found to be without substance.

“James has committed to making improvements to his management style and he will continue that development under my mentorship.

“He has expressed considerable regret if his manner has in any way made crew feel uncomfortable – that is clearly not his intention and goes specifically against the collaborative culture we want to build.”

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