I may be autistic, says BrewDog chief accused over ‘toxic’ culture

·3 min read
James Watt - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
James Watt - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The BrewDog chief at the centre of allegations of toxic and inappropriate behaviour towards staff has said he suspects he could be autistic following reaction to a newspaper interview he gave earlier this year.

James Watt, the CEO of the craft beer company, revealed that he has sought specialist help after being described as an “obsessive” and “cold-eyed” person who struggles to “express empathy or read social cues” in The Sunday Times in April.

Mr Watt has previously been the subject of allegations of personal impropriety, marketing scams and a culture of growth at all costs, with BrewDog attacked in a damning BBC Disclosure documentary in January this year.

He has since overhauled the company’s relationship with staff, but has revealed that he is continuing therapy he began after his marriage broke up, and has started to see a specialist to see whether he has autism after reading the conclusions about his character.

‘I definitely need to do better in empathy’

“Looking at that feedback, I started exploring as to whether I am a little bit autistic, and it’s still something I’m exploring at the moment,” he told the Diary of a CEO podcast.

“But, working with some specialists, I think I might have some kind of light level autism in the mix that would explain some of the social cue thing, some of the mindset thing, and some of the awkwardness as well.

“Because of that exact quote – and I was chatting with my doctor, and she’s like ‘I’ve thought that for a while James, quite possibly’. So I’m working with a specialist at the moment to see if there’s a diagnosis there or not.

“I definitely need to do better in empathy, 100 per cent. I think I’ve reflected and learned more than I have in my entire life over the last 12 months. One of the things I’m definitely working on at the moment is how can I be more empathetic as a leader.

“Going through the last few years I’ve had hyper-vigilance, just when you’re constantly on alert, jammed in kind of fight or flight, I’ve had anxiety. From a business perspective it’s been really tough, from a personal perspective it’s been tough as well.”

Firm valued at nearly £2 billion

While Mr Watt, 39, admits he has been too tough with employees in the past, prompting a total overhaul of staff relations following reviews, he and his lawyer have refuted many of the claims and launched legal action over some they say are false.

He has denied claims of inappropriate sexual behaviour and said that while some other complaints about management were justified, some were falsely made to financially damage the company.

BrewDog has spent £9 million on people and fixing “toxicity” in its culture, including improving salaries and benefits and shares for staff.

The firm, founded in Ellon, Aberdeenshire in 2007, has expanded across the UK, Europe and into the US, and owns more than 100 bars worldwide, employing more than 2,000 staff. It  is valued at nearly £2 billion.