James Watt once hurled stuffed cats from a helicopter over the City of London in a publicity stunt designed to lampoon ‘fat-cat’ corporate greed. Now he’s preparing a charm offensive with the same pinstriped ranks of financiers as his craft beer business BrewDog heads towards a float on the stock market. 

The blockbuster listing, rumoured to be worth more than £2billion, is one of the most hotly-anticipated IPOs among City investors keen to buy into a premium brand following the successful float of shoe brand Dr Martens. 

The brewer – famous for its guerrilla marketing campaigns – has appointed high-powered lawyers at Freshfields to help chart a course towards the stock exchange, bolstering a reshaped top team that includes finance chief Niall McCallum and former Asda boss Allan Leighton, who joined as its chairman and Watt’s mentor four months ago. 

Toast to the future: James Watt says BrewDog will stay rebellious

Toast to the future: James Watt says BrewDog will stay rebellious

Watt, chief executive of the firm, says a float will give ‘longer term liquidity’ to its existing individual investors, who currently have a single day each March to trade shares. ‘We’re pretty much working towards IPO for them as much as anyone else. They are the heart and soul of the business,’ he says, speaking over Zoom from his office at BrewDog’s production hub in Aberdeenshire, dressed in a blue and white striped jumper with a white beanie hat covering his shaven head. 

BrewDog’s knack for grabbing headlines – including the taxidermy ‘cat bombs’ – have given it an international following. Other stunts included creating a ‘BrewDog Viagra’ beer for Prince William’s 2012 wedding taglined ‘Arise Prince Willy’ and Watt and co-founder Martin Dickie dressing up as red light district sex workers for a crowdfunding ad. 

It has loudly championed its initiatives to share profits with employees and cap salaries for bosses at 14 times the lowest paid worker. Annual sales growth has averaged 57 per cent over the past decade and it is on course to sell 400million cans this year. 

But the past two years have delivered shocks for a company that had become accustomed to springing its own. The pandemic at times left its pubs deserted – and Watt sleeping in the office as he was working so hard to cope with the financial battering. 

Worse still, he received a scathing public attack with accusations of a ‘rotten culture’ levelled by his own former staff last summer – an episode he says made him belatedly face up to his own responsibilities as company co-founder and boss. Watt is, therefore, perhaps uncharacteristically coy on the timing of any IPO – at least for the time being. Stock market conditions and the outlook for Covid curbs on bars must be right to press the button, he says. ‘The key thing is getting that certainty and stability back,’ he adds, cautioning that the final trigger point for an IPO ‘could be this year or some point in the future, we’re working towards it’. Companies rarely signal when exactly they will float until they are ready to list. 

Access to fresh capital will also allow BrewDog to pursue an aggressive international expansion strategy and continue taking on established labels. ‘The top 10 beer brands are all companies which are 100 years old, in what other industry does that happen?’ 

A float has also long been promised for the 200,000 ‘equity punks’ brought on board through crowdfunding rounds since the brand’s launch in 2007. Since then, the Aberdeenshire-based brand has led the march of craft brewing into the mainstream: opening branded bars and hotels at home and overseas, and selling in supermarkets. 

Several other craft brewers – including Meantime and Camden Town Brewery – have been snapped up by brewing giants in recent years. But Watt, who counts a US private equity firm as a minority investor, dismisses suggestions he might be caught up in the latest buyout frenzy, which is being led by private equity firms. ‘We’ve had loads and loads of inbound [takeover interest]’, including two approaches last year. ‘We’re very passionate about our independence,’ he adds. 

But institutional investors may still be nervous after last year’s staff storm. A group of 60 employees published an open letter accusing it of pursuing growth at all costs, and Watt personally of leaving staff ‘burnt out, afraid and miserable’. It appears BrewDog’s unconventional approach had spilled over into its workplace culture. 

Watt, suitably contrite, says the allegations were ‘difficult to hear’ and the episode offered an ‘opportunity to get better as a company’. Covid, he says, triggered ‘some tough people decisions’. It shut down its 100 bars and small collection of hotels through a string of lockdowns and played havoc with BrewDog’s plans. 

He admits that, even before that, expansion was so rapid that ‘maybe we didn’t focus on the element of strategy that we should have’. 

But there is a limit to how much he’s willing to grovel. ‘I think a quote I heard about leadership was if you want to keep everyone happy, you should give away ice cream as opposed to run a company – sometimes things we do are not popular. 

‘And that’s kind of part and parcel of running the company, I suppose. But some of the personal elements are tough to hear. Before this I was working on a North Atlantic fishing boat. I’d never been a CEO before. I take the responsibility [for BrewDog’s 2,500 employees] very seriously.’ 

Outrageous: James Watt, left, and Martin Dickie prepare to drop ‘fat cats’ over the City

Outrageous: James Watt, left, and Martin Dickie prepare to drop ‘fat cats’ over the City

A ‘period of reflection on my own leadership’ followed the criticisms – as well as an independent review into the company’s culture by specialist Wiser. BrewDog then conducted leadership training, gave staff a pay rise and introduced a whistleblowing hotline. So should prospective investors be concerned there may be more skeletons in the closet? Watt says: ‘We’ve done a very thorough, transparent response to those issues. I think we’re now in a very good place.’ 

Meanwhile, Watt says he ‘doubled down’ on property investments during the pandemic, swooping on bargain sites for its bars and hotels. Huge new venues will soon open in Waterloo, London and on the Las Vegas Strip. Watt spent Christmas isolating alone with Covid in front of Netflix, seeing his two daughters later in the festive season. That was followed by a trip to the Maldives, swimming with sharks. He’s planning to release a documentary this year to bemoan the routine killing of sharks around the world. 

But, despite what appears to have been a period in which he has matured, Watt insists the growing pains and the course towards a City listing will not mean the end of BrewDog’s rebellious image. 

‘If I thought going into an IPO would change the essence of the business in any way, then it wouldn’t be part of the plan,’ Watt says. ‘We might be a slightly unconventional public company, but we’ll continue wearing our heart on our sleeve, continue to take a stand for the things that we believe in,’ he adds.

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.

Echo Show 15 review

Amazon Echo Show 15 review (Image: AMAZON)

If you fancy an Echo with a screen you’re not exactly spoilt for choice right now. The online retailer has an extensive range of display-packed devices including the cute Echo Show 5 and bizarre Echo Show 10 which follows you around the room like an overly excited puppy. Now there’s another new Echo Show joining the ranks and this time it’s gone supersized. The Show 15 arrives packing a giant 15.6-inch full HD screen and a design that’s been created to make it look just like a picture.

The concept is pretty simple with Amazon wanting customers to stick this device to their walls and use it as an interactive photo frame. It’s a really neat idea but does it actually work and is it worth the whopping £240 asking price? has been putting the Echo Show 15 through its paces and here’s what we think of it.

Echo Show 15 review:

Right out of the box Amazon has made things super simple to set up and install. Switch the speaker on, link it to your Amazon account and you’ll be barking orders at the ever-helpful Alexa assistant in a matter of minutes. It’s so super easy that even the biggest technophobes shouldn’t have any issues getting things up and running.

As we mentioned earlier, the Show 15 has been designed to cling to your walls with Amazon including everything you need to keep it firmly in place.

Amazon Echo Show 15

Amazon Echo Show 15 review (Image: AMAZON)

You’re going to need some basic DIY skills and a drill to get it installed but we found it all pretty easy with the supplied mount making sure the screen stays securely positioned in place. One thing to note is that this device needs power from the mains so you will end up with a cable dangling down from underneath the frame which does slightly spoil the appearance.

Amazon also only supplies this device with around a metre of lead so make sure you place the Show 15 close enough to the power sockets otherwise you’ll need to add an extension cable to your shopping basket which costs around £13.

If you don’t want the Show 15 drilled into your freshly painted plasterboard then you can also mount it on stand although this isn’t included in the box and will set you back another £30.

Once things are all set up the Show 15 is pretty useful as it not only does all the usual things such as setting timers, showing weather conditions and the day’s news but you can also pack the large display with a bunch of widgets to help guide you through the day.

There are Sticky Notes, To-do Lists, Shopping Lists, Calendars and Alexa Tips. You can also see the day’s weather, recent music playlists plus there’s quick access to all of your favourite smart home gadgets such as light bulbs and thermostats.

Amazon Echo Show 15

The Echo Show 15 is designed to look just like a picture frame (Image: AMAZON)

Glancing at the screen and seeing all of this information makes it ideal for busy homes and should mean nobody forgets to take the dog for a walk or buy some milk from the local shop. To make things more personal, the Show 15 can also be switched into a photo frame mode which will then display all of your family albums – it’s a really nice touch.

There are also stunning landscape images pre-installed on the Show which will certainly brighten up a dull corner of your room.

Another great feature of that 15.6-inch screen is that you can watch TV on it thanks to compatibility with services such as Netflix, YouTube and Prime Video. Just ask Alexa to launch these servcies and the display will spring into action and soon be full of things to view.

It’s all good stuff although, sadly, there are still quite a few platforms that don’t work with Echo Show devices including Disney+ and BBC’s iPlayer. The Echo Show 15 feels like the first screen that could really take advantage of these hugely popular video players and the missing content is something Amazon really needs to fix.

That lack of Disney and BBC shows isn’t our only gripe as there are some other niggles to be aware of.

Amazon Echo Show 15

Along with wall mounting it you can buy a stand to place the screen on (Image: AMAZON)

Firstly, although the screen is bright, colours do appear a little dull and there’s no way to boost the contrast or make things more punchy.

Then there’s the pretty terrible sound. Amazon’s design team has popped the speakers on the back of the device and, if mounted on the wall, the audio becomes really muffled.

If you’re simply using the Show 15 as a big screen this won’t be a concern but it’s pretty annoying if you’re hoping to listen to music all day or settle down for a blockbuster Netflix binge.

Then there are those useful widgets. All the pre-installed options are great but Amazon could definitely do with including more third-party services. Latest action from BBC Sport, access to your Facebook feed or a glance at Google Maps would all be welcomed although we doubt they will ever make an appearance on this device.

It would also be nice if you could change the size and shape of the widgets as they currently sit in a grid that can’t be customised. That means you can’t slap a Sticky Note over everything to remind you of an event or make a shopping list more visible on the screen.

It’s a real shame and it’s something the team at Amazon might want to address in future updates.

One final thing that’s pretty annoying is the speed of the screen. Swipes and taps seem to constantly stutter and it always feels one step behind your finger. The experience is definitely not as slick as other Echo devices we’ve used.

Amazon Echo Show 15

Amazon Echo Show 15 review (Image: AMAZON)


PROS: Big screen is useful • Easy to set up and install • Alexa remains one of the best assistants
CONS: Very expensive • Sound quality is terrible • Needs more widgets and more ways to customise them • No Disney+ or iPlayer

The Echo Show is back and bigger than ever. This 15.6-inch device clips neatly to your walls and offers a fun and pretty useful way to use Alexa.

The large screen means you can pack it full of those widgets or use it as a way to binge on the odd boxset.

The fact it looks just like a photo frame means it won’t appear out of place even in the most style-conscious of homes and there’s the brilliant Alexa assistant who will answer pretty much anything you ask of it.

At over £230 it is pricey and we do have some niggles with the quality of the screen and dismal sound.

We also hope Amazon releases a software update that brings more ways to customise the screen and speed things up a little.

Despite those gripes, we like what Amazon has created and, with a few tweaks, we could see plenty of homes loving everything the Show 15 has to offer.

The ruckus over customers being given heat saving tips by energy suppliers disguises a bigger problem – that British homes are among the most poorly built and leakiest in western Europe.

So when the cold weather does set in – and energy prices spike as they have done over the past few months – households face a big hike in heating bills.

As well as lousy Government policy on the energy price cap, much of the blame should also be laid at the door of Britain’s big housebuilders, which for decades have been putting up low-quality housing.

Lagging behind: Too many homes built in the UK over the past 50 years are in the dark ages compared to those on the continent where double, if not triple glazing is par for the course

Lagging behind: Too many homes built in the UK over the past 50 years are in the dark ages compared to those on the continent where double, if not triple glazing is par for the course

They have been allowed to get away with such poor standards on all aspects of building – from insulation to quality of workmanship – because of lax Government regulations.

Too many homes built in the UK over the past 50 years are in the dark ages compared to those on the continent where double, if not triple glazing, and underfloor heating are par for the course.

Who can forget the damning Dispatches TV programme two years ago about the hundreds of new-builds by Persimmon, our second biggest builder, which had multiple defects from no fire safety barriers to wobbling walls? Yet Persimmon had a five-star rating from the Home Builders Federation.

Which is why all the various plans afoot by the Government to help customers with energy bills in coming months are just sticking plaster, and missing the bigger issue.

It’s only by insisting that developers build to the highest levels in the future, and by helping homeowners improve insulation, that we will get anywhere close to solving the problem.

Households could save at least £500 a year with better insulation, according to the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group.

As well as a proper grown-up energy policy, the Government should be working fast to devise workable insulation schemes rather than the various gimmicky ones it usually comes up with. 

The last one, the Green Homes Plan, lasted six months. Until then, it’s worth taking on board the Ovo Energy tips to its customers to help save on heating, which have had to be withdrawn because they are deemed offensive.

Contrary to public opinion, they are eminently sensible: eating porridge for breakfast, putting on another jumper and doing a couple of star jumps are just common sense.

Supermarket cheap

As shoppers are fast finding out, a little Lidl goes a long way.

The German discounter claims to be the UK’s fastest growing bricks-and-mortar supermarket after great Christmas sales.

In the four weeks to December 26, Lidl reports sales rose 2.6 per cent, mainly because so many customers switched from other supermarkets because of its competitive pricing.

What Lidl failed to show though – like its German arch-rival Aldi – is whether the sales increase came from existing stores or its recently opened ones.

This would be pertinent to how sales are doing overall, as eight stores opened in December alone. Lidl also boasts that sales over the past two years are up by 21 per cent.

Yet Lidl’s claim that it is the fastest-growing supermarket during the festive season is under challenge as grocery tracker Nielsen suggests that Marks & Spencer was the fastest-growing food retailer, with a 9.4 per cent rise in sales over the past three months, while sales at Lidl were up 8.5 per cent.

Sounds to me rather like there is a lot of splitting of hairs going on as to who has done the best. 

But this fierce competition can only be good for the shopper in terms of prices. Such is the competition that Lidl has even promised that it will remain the lowest-cost destination.

Tesco and Sainsbury’s are now due to give their updates, so we will get a fuller picture of the overall sector. 

What is clear is that total food sales were up over the festive period and Nielsen forecast Britons spent £7billion on food in the two weeks to Christmas. In contrast, online non-food sales were down by a sharp 14 per cent in December.

Hardly a surprise, with most customers still stuck in semi-lockdown WFH limbo.

Lawyers beware

Don’t be envious that newly qualified lawyers are being offered £150,000 a year as a starting salary. Most of the firms paying these big bucks are American.

Paradoxically, one of the reasons they are having to fork out so much is that so many young lawyers are leaving: all part of what is being called the Great Resignation.

The reason they are leaving is because they are burnt out and overworked.

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.