Book review

BrewDog not really breaking all the rules

James Watt
Portfolio Penguin

Maybe it’s just me, but it’s really not a good sign when you write a business book where the advice you give inside directly contracts the claim on the frigging cover of the book.

Such is the case with this business primer from BrewDog’s James Watt, which says on the cover ‘‘Break all the Rules – the BrewDog way’’. But inside, it says this, ‘‘when it comes to finance, you need to be a Yoda-esque grand master of playing by the rules…’’. And it says this too, ‘‘You need to know precisely which rules you can break and which rules you can’t.’’

Yep, a businessman (which is what Watt is) who bangs about breaking all the rules (another excerpt: ‘‘Treat rules, regulations and bureaucrats with the callous indifference they deserve’’) effectively admits that’s total bullshit. Of course, it is, anyone who really thinks BrewDog breaks all the rules is an idiot. For instance, do you really think they just go ahead and build all their breweries and bars without getting any council and other required approvals?

But this is part of why the BrewDog shenanigans annoy me so much – because it’s bullshit. They talk about being ‘‘on a mission to tear down the system’’ when they ARE the fucking system. They’re not some guerrilla band of brewers making beer in their garage and selling it on the sly. They’re a multi-million dollar business. They pay tax, they hire accountants and lawyers, they launch dubious ‘‘share’’ equity schemes (which is really just a fan club, albeit the only fan club on Earth where you have to pay to join).

They rail against the oh-so-tired stereotype of fat cats in business suits. In the book Watt rails against ‘‘some asshole in a pinstriped suit’’, ‘‘venture capitalist toads, faux ‘angel’ investors and greedy bankers’’, as though BrewDog had never been part owned by an investment bank. Also, they attack boring ‘‘monolithic’’ beer, while happily letting wholly owned subsidiaries of these monolithic breweries distribute their beers.

They claim to break the rules, while actually following actually following them, profess to be smashing the system while being part of it, slagging off big business while willingly taking their money and attacking mainstream brewers while also working with them.

BrewDog like to talk the talk but seem much less interested in walking the walk. Which is why you shouldn’t bother with this book – because Watt is far too interested in the BrewDog image rather than being totally upfront with the reality of running the business. Sure, he might be telling the truth some of the time, but the problem with being full of bluster is it makes it difficult to tell when someone is being genuine.

If you want genuine business advice from a brewer there are other books by brewers that are better than this. That’s because they’re first and foremost about being helpful, this book is too busy building the BrewDog mystique to really be of much use to anyone.

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