BrewDog chief Allan Leighton accuses HR crisis adviser of fuelling fire as toxic row with staff rages
City grandee Allan Leighton has weighed into a row over the ‘toxic’ culture at Scottish beer company BrewDog.
The brewer, which is considering a £1billion stock market flotation, is trying to mend fences with employees after it was accused last year of creating a ‘rotten culture of fear’.
But in the latest twist, Leighton, the chairman, has launched an extraordinary tirade against a Berlin-based human resources consultancy Hand & Heart that had offered to help mediate with disgruntled staff.
Fury: Chairman Allan Leighton accused the agency of fuelling the fire
In a letter seen by The Mail on Sunday, he accused the consultancy of making the problem worse and criticised a request by the firm for payment of £100,000. Leighton said BrewDog would not be engaging the company to run a proposed ‘reconciliation’ programme and accused it of ‘amplifying’ criticism on social media.
The latest stand-off threatens to derail attempts to repair relations with staff.
The original complaints against the company emerged in a letter last summer from 60 former employees calling themselves Punks with Purpose.
Earlier this year, co-founder James Watt threatened to take legal action against the BBC over a documentary which he said included personal attacks on his character.
The company commissioned an independent review into its management culture. It committed itself to leadership training, gave staff a pay rise and introduced a whistleblowing hotline.
Earlier this year, Watt told The Mail on Sunday the accusations against him had triggered a ‘period of reflection on my leadership’. Leighton, who is also chairman of the Co-op and an ex-boss of Asda, said in a memo to staff that BrewDog’s people director, Karen Bates, had spent a ‘considerable amount of time’ speaking to Hand & Heart’s managing director Kate Bailey. He said the board took its proposal to help ‘very seriously’.
Even though it had not been formally hired, the consultancy launched an ‘affected worker registration platform’ online in conjunction with the Punks with Purpose group, where staff were invited to air complaints.
But in a letter sent to Bailey last week, Leighton lambasted Hand & Heart, accusing it of fanning the flames. ‘The unavoidable impression is that of H&H charging the company to extinguish a fire it is fuelling itself,’ he wrote.
He added: ‘We believe it is impossible for you to be a neutral mediator in a sensitive private setting.’
A source said ‘Bailey has presented herself as a woke warrior but seeking financial gain from this feels hypocritical’.
Stand-off: Kate Bailey of H&H described Leighton’s letter as ‘offensive’
Bailey replied in a letter to Leighton that Hand & Heart acted ‘in good faith’ and added that his missive was ‘filled with unfounded accusations…and frankly, is unbecoming of a leader of your stature and position in the business community’. She also described Leighton’s letter as ‘offensive, uninformed and inconsistent’.
‘I do not work to ‘save BrewDog’, I work for the justice of those your workplace has impacted,’ she said. ‘I have a duty to respond when public accusations arise, especially the ones relating to the chief executive of late. If you’re looking for fuel and fire start there.’
Bailey said she would continue to gather submissions and support those affected.
Last month, The Guardian newspaper reported that Watt had hired private investigators to obtain information about people who he believed were taking part in a smear campaign against him.
BrewDog has enjoyed a rapid rise as the popularity of craft beer has exploded in Britain.
A flotation has also long been promised for the 200,000 ‘equity punks’ brought on board through crowdfunding rounds since the brand’s launch in 2007.
Watt and his co-founder Martin Dickie led a series of eye-catching stunts which helped burnish its image as an upstart rival to mainstream beer brands.
These included dropping stuffed ‘taxidermy cat bombs’ on the City in a protest against corporate fat cat greed, and Watt and Dickie dressing up as red light district sex workers for a crowdfunding advert.