BrewDog CEO and co-founder James Watt is stepping down from the helm of the brewer he started in a garage after 17 years leading the UK business.

Watt will be succeeded by James Arrow, who joined BrewDog in September as COO.

“I have decided to transition into a new role in the business, one of ‘captain and co-founder’ – and James Arrow will pick up the reins as CEO as our business pushes forward into our next phase of growth,” Watt said.

“In my new role, I will remain as a board member, a director and I will also be part-time strategic advisor to the business and to our leadership team.”

Arrow joined BrewDog from Boots Opticians, where he was managing director.

The retail veteran and BrewDog chair Allan Leighton said: “James Watt spoke to me last year about continuing to play a role with the business while freeing up time to concentrate on his other projects and interests. We subsequently put in place a succession plan by recruiting James Arrow as COO and strengthening the wider senior leadership team.”

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According to the most recently available figures at Companies House, BrewDog, which has grown to become a mainstream UK beer brand and a pub operator, generated revenue of £321.2m ($401m) in 2022, up from £285.6m a year earlier. It generated a loss of £24.8m, compared to £10.6m in 2021.

Watt’s development of BrewDog and tenure as CEO has seen the company export to 60 markets and set up on-premise outlets in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia.

However, the growth of the company has not been without its issues. In 2021, the company was accused of creating a “toxic” workplace for staff. An open letter, posted online under the name ‘Punks With Purpose’ and signed by 76 former employees, claimed BrewDog was built around a “cult of personality” of Watt and fellow co-founder Martin Dickie.

An excerpt read: “It doesn’t matter which part of the business we worked in; production, bartending, sales, operations, packaging, quality, marketing or HR, we all felt that in our day-to-day working lives, there were at best hurdles and, at worst, genuine safety concerns. In the wake of your success are people left burnt out, afraid and miserable. The true culture of BrewDog is, and seemingly always has been, fear.”

Watt responded to the letter at the time, stating it was “so upsetting, but so important”. He added BrewDog was sorry, would not contest the letter but “listen, learn and act”.

In January, it emerged the company was to stop paying some of its hospitality staff the UK’s so-called real living wage to tackle increased costs.

Last July, the brewer announced plans for international hospitality expansion, with a target to set up 300 new bars and franchises worldwide by 2030. It said it aimed to launch new venues in the UK, India, the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, and Thailand.

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