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BrewDog boss ditches ‘David and Goliath’ talk at Aberdeen TedX event amid employee complaints

The first speakers for the inaugural TEDx Aberdeen event have been announced, including BrewDog president David McDowall.
The first speakers for the inaugural TEDx Aberdeen event have been announced, including BrewDog president David McDowall.

A BrewDog boss has cancelled a speech about “thinking David but being Goliath” following an open letter from ex-employees alleging that the craft beer giant operated a culture of fear.

The firm’s president and chief operations officer David McDowall has withdrawn from speaking at Aberdeen’s first TEDx event in light of the allegations.

He was due to take to the stage to encourage audiences to “think David” but “be Goliath” during the event on July 31.

He was going to be drawing on the successes BrewDog has had as a company and its experience of growth.

‘Dave is focusing his energies with his team at this time’

But a tweet sent from the organisers of the event this afternoon said Mr McDowall has had a change of heart.

The tweet states: “Dave McDowall, president and COO of BrewDog, has withdrawn as a speaker at TEDxAberdeen.

“In light of allegations raised by open letter from ex-employees, Dave is focusing his energies with his team at this time.”

A letter from ex-workers posted on Twitter claimed a “significant number” of former staff have “suffered mental illness as a result of working at BrewDog”.

It made a number of allegations, including that BrewDog fostered a culture where staff were afraid to speak out about concerns.

Afterwards, BrewDog boss James Watt  promised an independent review of the beer firm and said he takes “100%” of the blame.

As well as the review, he said the beer giant would carry out an anonymous staff survey to “paint a comprehensive picture of the BrewDog culture at every level”.

Writing on LinkedIn, the company co-founder apologised to staff for the “lot of pain” they have been caused.

“I am ultimately responsible for the culture. The letter that ex-colleagues wrote to us is 100% my fault,” he said.

“I can’t possibly have all the answers at the moment but my commitment to our team is that I am going to throw my heart and soul into working with them to fix these issues.”

BrewDog backlash

The letter from ex-workers posted on Twitter also brought other internal issues to light.

It said Mr Watt and co-founder Martin Dickie had exploited publicity “both good and bad” to further their own business goals and chased “growth, at all costs”.

The Scottish brewer and pub chain employs 2,000 staff.

Speaking on the announcement of his as speaker for the summer conference, Mr McDowall: “The conventional headaches of business – managing shareholder expectations, satisfying the needs of a growing executive team, and all of the day-to-day grind of logistics, sales, people, recruitment, cash flow, expansion, ROI, and so, so much more – all get in the way of what was likely once a fantastically simple vision of what was important for your company.

“We have learnt this stuff the hard way, and have the bruises to show it.

“These things that we have learnt, as a team forged in the fire of adversity, are the small ideas that business needs to learn quickly in order to build organisations that are fit for the future, but that are rooted in the spirit of their past.”

Moray Barber, TEDxAberdeen licensee said: “Out of respect for the other TEDxAberdeen speakers & not to overshadow the event, Dave McDowall decided to withdraw as speaker to focus his energies on his team.

“We are thankful of his consideration to the other speakers & their hard work in making TEDxAberdeen a success. Given the tightly packed schedule on 31 July, we have decided to allocate more time for the audience interaction with our speakers.”

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