Watt next? Outgoing BrewDog boss hints at setting up new company

13/05/2024
James Watt (Brewdog)

OUTGOING BrewDog boss James Watt has hinted at plans to launch a new company – but is keeping the details under wraps for now.

The entrepreneur surprised everyone last week by announcing that he is stepping down as the CEO of the Aberdeenshire craft beer giant he founded alongside Martin Dickie in 2007.

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In his only interview, Mr Watt has explained his reasons for stepping aside, and what he still hopes to achieve as he seeks to emulate the business disrupters who have inspired him.

From humble beginnings in a leased council unit in Fraserburgh, BrewDog now has 3,000 employees, more than 130 bars worldwide and sells one million cans of beer a day, including its renowned Punk IPA, bringing in revenues of £321million in 2022.

However, despite his phenomenal success Mr Watt has faced criticism for his management style and the culture at BrewDog as it grew exponentially.

Nevertheless, news of his departure came as a surprise, even though his successor – James Arrow, a former senior executive at Boots and Dixons – was brought into the business eight months ago.

So, did the weight of criticism become too much? Is he taking himself out of the firing line so that the company can float on the stock market without his baggage weighing it down?

The answer is neither, he told the Sunday Time, insisting instead that he is burnt out and a bit fed up with the day-to-day demands of running a large company.

In essence, the thrill has worn off. And he now feels there are better people to run the behemoth that BrewDog has become.

“I love this thing to pieces, but there’s less building now,” he said.

“It’s managing. I’m a builder, my skill set is a builder.”

“You don’t get that down and dirty, walking through walls feeling when it’s a bigger more established business. I would back myself over anyone taking a company from £10million to £50million or £100million turnover.

“Would I pick myself over anyone to run a company with 3,000 people? I think there are people that can do it better.”

Mr Watt said he now wants to emulate Elon Musk and other leading innovators by setting-up and growing multiple companies.

He said: “I love the business, I love the people, I love what we do. But I always wanted to build multiple businesses. The people I look to, most of them have built multiple amazing businesses.”

He revealed he found it “painful” to read Walter Isaacson’s recent biography of Elon Musk, despite being a ferocious consumer of business books.

“When I read what he’d done and what he achieved, I was frustrated at myself at not having done more and not having achieved more.”

He now plans to take a month of holiday, go away with his daughters and his girlfriend, television’s Georgia Toffolo, play some golf with his old fishing boat pals, and turn his phone off for the first time in more than a decade.

And then he plans to go again. He is investing in everything from ice baths to laundry services and also plans to launch a new company, though the details remain under wraps.

Mr Watt also hinted at his frustration about the way he and another business people are attacked by the media.

“The UK has got such a curious relationship with success,” Watt reflects.

“Look at how successful business people are portrayed in the media, then look at the fact that the UK has one of the worst economic performances of any developed country; those two things are intrinsically linked.

“We need entrepreneurs, job creation, innovation. But to grow small companies needs push, there has to be hard charging. For this country to compete they need entrepreneurs who are willing to take risks and put everything on the line.”

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