BrewDog boss James Watt calls time after 17 years

BrewDog boss James Watt is stepping down from the top job 17 years after he co-founded the Scottish brewer and pub group.

Mr Watt will hand over the reins to chief operating officer James Arrow, but will remain with the group as a non-executive director on the board and continue to advise the group on strategy.

The group said it had put in place succession plans after Mr Watt first told the board last year he wanted to step away to focus on his other projects and interests.

Mr Watt will take on the newly created non-executive role of “captain and co-founder” and retains his 21% shareholding in the firm.

In a Linkedin post, Mr Watt said: “After 17 fantastic years as chief executive, I have decided to transition into a new role in the business, one of ‘captain and co-Founder’ – and James Arrow will pick up the reins as chief executive as our business pushes forward into our next phase of growth.

“In my new role I will remain as a board member, a director and I will also be part time strategic adviser to the business and our to leadership team.”

BrewDog chairman Allan Leighton said: “James Watt, alongside Martin Dickie, created this great business from a garage in Fraserburgh.

“Few have accomplished what he has.

“From very humble beginnings under his leadership, BrewDog has grown to become the world’s leading craft brewer, employing 2,530 people across its head office, four breweries and over 120 bars.

“I am especially pleased he will continue to offer his insight, creative genius and energy to the board.”

But Mr Watt’s tenure has been marred by controversy in recent years, with the firm accused by former workers in an open letter in 2021 of having a “culture of fear” within the business, with “toxic attitudes” towards junior staff.

Mr Watt apologised to staff and since insisted the group has made changes after the open letter was published.

And in January, the company also faced a backlash after revealing it would no longer hire new staff on the “real” living wage, instead paying the lower legal minimum wage.

New BrewDog boss James Arrow was hired last year as chief operating officer as part of succession planning (BrewDog/PA)
New BrewDog boss James Arrow was hired last year as chief operating officer as part of succession planning (BrewDog/PA)

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) called on BrewDog’s new boss, Mr Arrow, to pay the firm’s workers the real living wage.

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “BrewDog’s success has been built on the back of its workforce.

“They deserve to be valued properly.”

Mr Watt said on announcing his departure from the top job: “During my time at the helm of BrewDog, there have been highs and lows, up and downs, crazy successes and incredibly hard challenges.

“When I look back on the last 17 years (119 Dog Years) my overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude.”

He said he was “grateful for the tough times too, for the learnings they provided, the resolve they instilled and the perspective they offered”.

He said he plans to “take a bit of time off, to travel, to spend more time with my family and friends.

“I am also looking forward to being able to dedicate some more time to my other business interests.”

Mr Watt, whose girlfriend is former Made In Chelsea star Georgia Toffolo, has been investing in start-up firms and last year led the Next Unicorn competition, sharing out £1 million of funding between five companies.

He said he wants to continue “to invest and help nurture fantastic start-up businesses”, adding: “In due course, starting a few new ventures of my own.”

Mr Arrow, who was hired as chief operating officer last September as part of succession planning for the top role, was previously managing director of Boots Opticians.

Before this, he spent a decade at Dixons Carphone, where he held senior roles across e-commerce, trading, operations, sales and transformation.