Can a business be multi-million-pound successful AND ethical?

By : Forum Moderator
Published 13th June 2021 |
Read latest comment - 24th June 2021

I'm not sure if you saw it but Brewdog got outed by over 60 ex staff in a letter explaining how toxic and damaging their culture was.

Prior to this I had believed that they were an ethical culture doing the right thing by their workers and also growing into a billion pound business.

Whilst the letter isn't proof in a court of law it appears to be enough to change my mind on the company and it's leaders.

I follow James Watt the CEO on LinkedIn and I have to admit some of his posts were a bit much at times but I excused it as he's a big personality. The ego is obviously so big it took over everything though.

A number of years ago they were also accused of stealing marketing ideas from pitches without hiring the agencies in question. 

I am the last to jump on a bandwagon, but Brewdog's initial response to the letter online was so condescending and self centered it was horrendous. Look it up. 

Watt has since come out and apologized but it feels like empty words to me.

Let's see what happens but the damage to his reputation and that if the business must be huge.

Do you think you can run a huge corporation without stamping on your employees? Few seem to manage it!


Short answer, no 

Fascinating, I hadn't actually heard this story until I saw your post. One side effect from Covid, I got bored of the doom, gloom and negativity, so rarely watch the news!

I think to start and run a business, particularly if you are aiming for a high growth business, then you are going to need buckets of confidence and optimism. You can also read that as arrogant, cocky or ego if it's overdone.

A lot of people, particularly startups like to talk up success, tell the world how fantastic they are and how well they are doing, regardless of the truth. Most of us have been guilty of that to some extent, I know I have.

But I think it's easy to build a friendly culture with whatever values you hold dear with a small company and handful of employees. I think it's more of a challenge the larger a business gets. Companies are microcosms of general society and will have all the same traits, from political beliefs, racism, stance on the environment, plodders, go getters, bullies, nice people. The bigger the company, the bigger the divisions, the harder it is to manage a standard one size fits all culture and ethos.

Culture is supposed to come top-down, but if you only recruit an echo chamber of like-minded believers aligned to your thinking, then you can argue that could stifle creativity, miss out on meaningful critique, debate and improvement.

The gold standard of large company culture is Google, but back in 2018 they have had mass walkouts due to sexual misconduct and harassment, so even the golden boys and gals seem to struggle.

The BBC used to pride itself on its values and culture, but that's been shot down in flames quite a few times, including very recently.

John Lewis has often been held up as a beacon, as it's employee-owned, which generates a flatter management structure, but they have been having trading problems with employees missing out on bonuses, so is that the best way to run a business?

Maybe culture and ethos is impossible to maintain once you get to a tipping point of number of employees, and business strategy is really the only way to run a large organisation. React and fulfil customer demand, rather than worry about culture and ethos.

If your customers are worried about the environment or health, then you need to be, so sell them electric cars and avocados. If they want fun and carefree, sell them v6 petrol engines, alcohol and cigarettes.

At least that's my more cynical assessment 

Steve Richardson
Gaffer of My Local Services
My Local Services | Me on LinkedIn

This Thread is now closed for comments