Brewdog boss James Watt has opened up about his personal struggles both growing up and in his adult life and mistakes he has made with the 15-year-old business.
He has also admitted to “pushing people too far” and being “too demanding” of staff.
Speaking to entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den member Steven Bartlett for his Diary Of A CEO podcast, Mr Watt also revealed he was seeking help from a specialist to see whether he was autistic.
Brewdog has never been a stranger of controversy throughout Mr Watt’s time in charge.
In June last year claims of inappropriate behaviour and fostering an unpleasant work culture were made about him in a BBC documentary focused on the craft beer firm.
And dozens of staff signed a letter accusing bosses at the north-east beer giant of “lies, hypocrisy and deceit”, and of fostering fear in their employees.
“It’s completely fair to say at times in the journey I have been too intense, I have been too demanding, that I have set standards for the team that I would set for myself, and for a lot of the team members that is unattainable… I did push people too far”, Mr Watt said in the interview.
He claimed that his actions were done with “100% good intentions”.
Mr Watt continued: “I just pushed for such high standards, unrealistic deadlines, it’s because I was so focused on ‘let’s build the thing, let’s create more jobs, let’s deliver more value for our customers’.”
Recently the controversial boss of beer-maker BrewDog has pledged to hand over a stake in the Ellon-based firm worth an estimated £100 million to its workers.
‘Inadequacy complex’ growing up
Mr Watt revealed his struggles throughout childhood.
He said: “My relationship with my mum was never that good and I think I struggled a lot when I was a kid.
“I had quite a severe speech impediment when I was growing up and this is something I haven’t spoken about before.
“That kind of always made me a little bit of an outsider, a little bit of a loner and always felt a bit socially awkward.
“As I grew up and became a bit older I had quite severe acne so again outsider, loner, socially awkward and I think it’s a trait a lot of entrepreneurs have in common.
“Also had a bit of an inadequacy complex when I was a kid as well. Mum’s standards were quite high so whatever I did wasn’t good enough.
“Ninety eight per cent in a test, why wasn’t it 100, won a swimming competition but why didn’t I win it with an even better time?
“Any achievement wasn’t quite good enough.”
He added he hadn’t spoken to his mother in 20 years.
‘Unrealistic expectations’ of staff
Further addressing issues with staff Mr Watt added: “I think it’s completely fair to say there’s been points on the high-growth journey of this company where we could’ve done more to look after the people.
“As a first-time CEO leading a company that was expanding super rapidly in the US, Germany and the UK at times we didn’t invest enough in HR and had unrealistic expectations of our team and think a fair amount of feedback in that letter was valid.
“We’ve always wanted to be the best employer we can be.
“The aspiration has always been to be a fantastic place to work and we’ve always believed our long-term destiny is determined by how well we look after the fantastic people in our business and that has been core to our DNA since day one.
“Have we always lived up to that in the high growth period, no we haven’t, and we fully accept that.”
Seeked help for issues
On the podcast chat with Bartlett, Mr Watt revealed he’s having regular therapy after his marriage break-up, and has started seeing a specialist to see if he has autism, after an April newspaper interview about him which called him an “obsessive” and “cold-eyed” person who struggles to “express empathy or read social cues”.
He said: “Off the back I started exploring as to whether I am a little bit autistic and it’s still something I’m exploring a the moment.
“Working with some specialists I think I might have some light-level autism in the mix which would explain some of the social cue things, some of the mindset thing and social awkwardness as well.”
Speaking about his treatment Mr Watt said: “I got therapy, I actually started when I separated from my ex-wife to kind of help us through that transition, help us be the best co-parents we could to our two amazing little daughters, and I’ve continued going because I just think it’s really useful.
“Being CEOs is lonely, in the tendency ‘let’s just bottle all this stuff and let’s keep going with it’.
“I think I can be a better leader if I’ve got someone to talk to about those things.
“I actually did last year five days of intensive therapy in the woods outside of Nashville, so I was living in a little hut for five days and kind of doing an intensive course.”
The craft beer brewer, based in Ellon, has now spent £9m on people and fixing “toxicity” in its culture, including improving salaries and benefits and giving shares for staff.