James Watt

James Watt

BrewDog co-founder and CEO James Watt is stepping down from leading the craft beer business after 17 years.

Watt announced he had decided to transition into a new role in the business, one of ‘captain & co-founder’, with James Arrow to become the new CEO.

Watt founded BrewDog with Martin Dickie in his business partner’s mother’s garage.

BrewDog’s bar business will continue to be led by James Brown.

Announcing the news, Watt said: “Little could I have imagined that this journey would see us build the world’s leading craft beer business, operate in over 70 countries, create a unicorn, ship over 1 billion cans of beer and be fortunate enough to work with such amazing people every single day.

“For almost two decades pretty much every second of my waking existence has been focussed on this amazing business. Being able to co-found and then lead BrewDog and our fantastic team has been the greatest privilege and the best adventure I could ever have wished for.”

In his new role Watt will remain as a board member, a director and part time strategic advisor to the business and leadership team.

He will retain his BrewDog shareholding and pledged to give 20% of his BrewDog shares to the team as part of the ‘Hop Stock’ initiative.

The outgoing CEO acknowledged there had been “highs and lows, up and downs, crazy successes and incredibly hard challenges” during his tenure.

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

In his post-CEO career, he said he would continue to help nurture start-ups, and in due course, start a few new ventures of my own.

“As for BrewDog going forward, I am really excited to see the next phase of our growth,” he added. “We have great momentum in our most important sales channels and our team, at all levels of the business, is in incredibly good shape.”

Watt’s tenure was characterised by extraordinary growth at the business, taking American-style hoppy craft beer, then a fairly niche and little understood product in the UK, into one of the biggest and most high-profile beer brands, Punk IPA. 

Under his leadership, the company has raised hundreds of millions of pounds to fund its global growth as a supplier and bar operator, through its ’Equity for Punks’ crowdfunding schemes, and private equity investment from the likes of TSG Consumer Partners. 

Its self-styled punk ethos has inevitably been called into question however, as the business has become part of the establishment it has purported to disdain.

His leadership has been marked by a string of viral marketing stunts and scandals, one of the most notable surrounding a BBC expose into BrewDog toxic work culture under Watt – a characterisation he vehemently challenged.

More recently, BrewdDog courted controversy for pulling out of the National Living Wage, a move Watt defended, but which ultimately further damaged their reputation as an employer.

The outspoken CEO, who would often take to LinkedIn to rail against his critics in the mainstream media, held on through those two major controversies.

But under the chairmanship of City grandee Allan Leighton, he may have been persuaded that the time was right to move on under his own terms.