Leadership demands many things and, let’s face it, admitting you’re wrong, that you’ve cocked-up, is never easy. But it’s also part of being honest with yourself and your team, and accountable for the decisions you make. It encourages a culture of transparency and breeds confidence and inspiration.
James Watt, co-founder of what now bills itself as Britain’s biggest independent craft brewer, has gone a step further by listing his biggest mistakes since he and close friend Martin Dickie launched BrewDog in a garage in 2007.
Watt has penned a blog, openly admitting where he went wrong and what he may have done differently. It’s a refreshing and – pardon the pun – sobering account that may offer some comfort to others who feel they’re prone to getting things wrong or that they just don’t know what they’re doing.
Watt’s words should reassure them that there’s always a chance to try again.
“It has definitely not always been plain sailing,” he admits.” I wanted to share the 10 biggest mistakes I have made so far on this journey, so that other business leaders could potentially avoid some of the pitfalls.
So what are his worst mistakes? Here’s a selection from his blog of self-confessed blunders.
The intention here was good, for International Women’s Day we wanted to highlight the gender pay gap of almost 20% and fight for more equality.
The whole thing was meant as an overt parody on sexist marketing, but no one realised it actually was a parody. The backlash was justified.
We had a trademark dispute in March 2017 with a bar called Lone Wolf, which is also the name of our gin brand. We took legal action against them on the name. This was a mistake on my behalf: there was never going to be any confusion between their bar and our gin, and I was completely wrong to take action.
A few years back, I mistakenly believed the only way to take BrewDog to the next level was to hire an experienced and expensive senior management team. I assembled an all-star cast but within 12 months we had parted company with of all seven. Despite being fantastic people and leaders, they just did not integrate into our BrewDog culture. It was an expensive lesson.
Elastic Band Labels
Ironically the piece of packaging that we have won the most awards for was the one that performed worst commercially for us. The labels were both super minimalist and held on only by an elastic band. The labels kept falling off, our customers sent the stock back and after eight months we had to completely change the branding and packaging.
We mistakenly misread the market for sour beers and put together an amazing facility that was simply far too big. Consequently, we were under pressure from the outset and ended up making far too many different sour beers than we could hardly even keep up with what was going on.
Initially, we were so enamoured that anyone would want to open a franchise bar internationally that we said yes to every single inquiry. We did not check to see if the partner could run a bar, if they had the necessary funds and we did not even have a proper contract. This led to some pretty mediocre BrewDog bars internationally.
Being Too Slow On Climate
The more we learned about climate change the more we realised that we were a massive part of the problem and that we had been for the last 13 years. Whilst we are doing our fair share now, I wish we had been on this faster.
How Not To Do An Acquisition
We almost never do acquisitions. However, two years ago we bought Hawkes, an amazing craft cider business led by a brilliant entrepreneur Simon Wright. And then I ripped the soul out of the brand.
The first full shipping container left our brewery in 2008, bound for California. Unfortunately, we did not ship the beer in a refrigerated container and the beer sat cooking in a hot steel box all the way to San Diego. The whole thing cost us £30,000 at a time we had less than £10,000 in the bank.
Clash over Trump claim
We are usually control freaks. But in 2017 an individual at the PR agency we were using went rogue at an event and sent out a press release stating there would be free beer for any Trump supporter.
We immediately cancelled the event, the agency fired the rogue employee and we took legal action.
We now we handle the communications for everything ourselves.