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BrewDog chief to hand £100mn of his personal stake to staff

BrewDog staff are in line for potential payouts of up to £120,000 after its chief executive pledged to share with them £100mn of his personal stake in the UK’s largest craft brewer.

James Watt said on Tuesday that he would donate a fifth of his 24 per cent stake in the company to an employee trust, which would grant share options to BrewDog’s 750 salaried staff over the next four years.

The move comes as the brewer works to repair relations with staff after claims of a “toxic” work culture exploded last year.

Each employee will receive the same share award, which BrewDog said could amount to £120,000 per employee based on the company’s most recent fundraising round of £1.8bn in 2018.

Bar staff paid by the hour, who make up the remainder of BrewDog’s 2,250 employees, will receive half of the profits made in its 111 bars every six months in a separate incentive scheme.

“We wanted to do some radical, different things that would help build the company long term,” Watt said. “This is very much about ownership, about building a new type of company and about giving back.”

It has been a turbulent year for BrewDog and for Watt, who was accused in a letter signed by almost 300 former employees of creating “a residual feeling of fear” in the company and a misogynistic culture. At the same time, Watt was personally subject to a £500,000 fraud case that is now being heard in the Scottish courts.

BrewDog has slowed its progress towards a long-planned stock market listing. Watt, who hinted in January that a listing could come as soon as this year, said on Tuesday that an IPO was now a “medium as opposed to short term plan”.

Since the allegations by the former staff, known as “Punks with Purpose”, the Aberdeenshire-based brewer has made efforts to reconcile itself with its staff and improve its public image.

In September, BrewDog appointed City grandee Allan Leighton as chair and personal mentor to Watt. In December, it pledged to expand its human resources department, reintroduce quarterly career discussions and employ 600 more staff to ease “bottlenecks” following an independent review.

“Have we always been a perfect company to work for? I can accept that we haven’t. Are there things that we can do better? Yes, and we have put a plan in place to do that,” Watt said.

But Bryan Simpson, hospitality organiser for the union Unite, said that while the share options would be “welcome news for the minority” who receive them, the move “will not resolve the toxic culture cultivated and imposed from the very top of the organisation”.

BrewDog, which was founded in 2007, grew rapidly due to its unusual publicity stunts and crowdfunding campaigns. It plans to open 22 more bars this year and increase overall headcount to 3,000.

Watt admitted that sharing half of bar profits was “a leap into the unknown” given current cost pressures on the business.

The cost of aluminium cans has doubled since last year, while malted barley was “significantly up” the Scottish founder said. The brewer has also been stung by the recent swings in exchange rate as it sources 95 per cent of its hops in the US.

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