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.
Around 750 staff – which the firm calls “crew members” – are eligible to receive shares which the company says is the equivalent of £30,000 annually for the next four years.
And some staff across BrewDog’s estate of more than 100 bars and restaurants will benefit from a deal to share half the company’s profits, worth between £3,000 to £5,000 per year extra based on last year’s trading figures, in what the firm has called a “revolutionary” and “democratising” move in the hospitality industry.
Chief executive and founder James Watt is donating a 5% stake in the business in the new employee share ownership scheme.
Under the terms of the programme, employees can cash in their shares whenever the company floats on a publicly-listed stock exchange – known as an initial public offering.
There is no current timeline for the company floating, although BrewDog has hired advisers and beefed up its board ahead of the move, including the appointment of former Asda boss Allan Leighton as chairman late last year.
Storms of controversy
The shares bonanza comes after Mr Watt faced storms of controversy over his relations with employees.
Claims of inappropriate behaviour and fostering an unpleasant work culture were made about him in a BBC documentary focused on the craft beer firm. This came after 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.
The company has more than 2,200 employees worldwide.
BrewDog said its latest move was one of the “UK’s largest-ever share giveaways”, aimed at rewarding staff with “a stake in the future success of the business” as its celebrates its 15th anniversary.
Mr Watt will hand over 3.7 million shares to an employee benefit trust, which should allow eligible staff to eventually buy and sell shares.
The firm said this means his total shareholding in BrewDog, which he co-founded in 2007, will reduce from 24.2% to 19.2%.
The £100m value of the shares is based on the firm’s most recent fundraising valuation of £1.8 billion, the company said.
It added the share award could be “worth even more” if the company meets growth targets, potentially giving employees an even bigger reward for their hard work.
The brewer said the deal underlined Mr Watt’s “unwavering commitment to the BrewDog team” as it prepares for its “next chapter of growth”.
Its plans include a “massive investment” in its Ellon HQ, “numerous people and culture initiatives” as well as a “continued focus on sustainability”.
Mr Watt said the moves mean employees and shareholders – known as “equity punks” – who have taken part in numerous crowd fundraisers would own 25% of the business between them.
He added: “These radical new initiatives are about ensuring we win together and fully recognise the hard work that our fantastic team puts into our business.
“Our team and our equity punk community are now collectively the largest shareholder in BrewDog, making us truly a people-powered business.
“The road ahead is going to be exciting but it won’t be easy. Redefining an industry never is.
“The share giveaway and profit share scheme will ensure we are all in this together as we look to write the next chapter in the BrewDog story.”
The road ahead is going to be exciting but it won’t be easy. Redefining an industry never is.”
BrewDog CEO James Watt.
Mr Leighton said: “There is no better way to ensure that a company thrives than to give its people a stake in its future success.
“These are the perfect initiatives to mark the next stage in the evolution of the business and take our people with us on that journey.
“This is a company that has shown, over 15 years of revolutionising the brewing industry, that it is ready to do things differently and I am very proud to chair it.”