BrewDog co-founder steps down as chief executive

Craft beer firm boss James Watt to be replaced by current chief operating officer James Arrow

BrewDog co-founder James Watt has released a personal statement on social media about his decision to step down.
BrewDog co-founder James Watt has released a personal statement on social media about his decision to step down.

SEVENTEEN years after he co-founded beer sector uber-disruptor Brewdog, James Watt has stepped down as the company’s chief executive.

In a statement issued today (8 May), BrewDog announced that the company’s current chief operating officer, James Arrow, will replace Watt as CEO, in what was described as a “succession plan put in place last year”.

Watt will, however, stay on the BrewDog PLC board in the non-executive director role of “captain and co-founder” and remains a major shareholder in the business.

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.”

Arrow joined BrewDog from Boots Opticians, where he was managing director, in September 2023. Prior to that, he spent a decade at Dixons Carphone in a variety of senior roles including e-commerce, trading, operations, sales and transformation.

“James Arrow is a proven leader,” said Leighton. “His eight months as COO have given him a great insight into the business. The board is delighted to have him as CEO, to lead the company into its next phase of growth.

“James Watt, alongside Martin Dickie, created this great business from a garage in Fraserburgh,” noted Leighton. “Few have accomplished what he has. From very humble beginnings, under his leadership, BrewDog has grown to become the world’s leading craft brewer, employing 2,530 people across its head office, four breweries and over 120 bars.

“I am especially pleased he will continue to offer his insight, creative genius and energy to the board. We all wish him every success in his new ventures and in his NED role on the board.”

New CEO Arrow said: “James and Martin have created a fantastic business. I am looking forward to building on their achievements and leading this business through the next phase of its development.”

In a personal statement released alongside the corporate announcement, Watt expanded upon his decision to take a step back.

a selection of brewdog cans

“Seventeen years ago, Martin and I founded BrewDog in Martin’s mum’s garage,” said Watt. “With two humans and one dog we set out on a bold mission to make other people as passionate about great beer as we are.

“Little could I have imagined that this journey would see us build the world’s leading craft beer business, operate in over 70 countries, create a unicorn, ship over one billion cans of beer and be fortunate enough to work with such amazing people every single day.

“As a team, we have won gold medals at the world beer cup, opened show-stopping locations all over the planet, turned the beer industry on its head, continually taken a stand for the things we believe in, created thousands of jobs, broken crowdfunding records and continually strived to build the best company we possibly could.

“For almost two decades, pretty much every second of my waking existence has been focussed on this amazing business,” said Watt. “Being able to co-found and then lead BrewDog and our fantastic team has been the greatest privilege and the best adventure I could ever have wished for.

“After 17 fantastic years as CEO, I have decided to transition into a new role in the business, one of ‘Captain & Co-Founder’ – and James Arrow will pick up the reins as CEO as our business pushes forward into our next phase of growth.

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

“Furthermore, I will retain my BrewDog shareholding and my Hop Stock initiative, whereby I give 20% of my BrewDog shares to the team, will remain in place,” he stressed.

“During my time at the helm of BrewDog, there have been highs and lows, up and downs, crazy successes and incredibly hard challenges. When I look back on the last 17 years (119 Dog Years) my overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude.

“Gratitude to have been able to build the world’s leading craft beer brand, from scratch. Gratitude to have been able to work with such amazing people all over our business including our fantastic community.

“I am eternally thankful for all the brilliant beers, all the standout batches of Jack Hammer and all the wild adventures we have been on as a team,” said Watt.

“I am also grateful for the tough times too, for the learnings they provided, the resolve they instilled and the perspective they offered.”

As for his own next chapter, Watt said he would continue to help BrewDog “build an amazing business”, while taking some time off for “travelling and adventures” and to spend with family and loved ones.

He added that he would continue to “help nurture fantastic start-ups’” become a football manager, and in due course, start “a few new ventures of my own” – although he conceded that one of those statements was a lie.

“As for BrewDog going forward, I am really excited to see the next phase of our growth,” he said. “We have great momentum in our most important sales channels and our team, at all levels of the business, is in incredibly good shape. Hold Fast.”