Glasgow brewery West switches to employee ownerships

The West brewery team with founder Petra Wetzel (bottom left). Picture: Contributed
The West brewery team with founder Petra Wetzel (bottom left). Picture: Contributed
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A Glasgow beer maker claims to have become the first brewery in the UK to make the formal transition to employee ownership.

West, which incorporates a brewery, bar and restaurant at Glasgow Green, has placed an initial 10 per cent of its company shares into a dedicated employee trust.

Under a share incentive plan (SIP) which took effect from April, “Westies” – as the staff are affectionately known – who have worked with the business for 12 consecutive months will receive £3,600 worth of shares each year.

This represents the maximum sum that can be given tax-free to employees.

There are currently around 65 Westies who are eligible for shares, with the brewery claiming it is now the first in the UK to become owned by its employees.

Brewery founder, Bavarian-born Petra Wetzel, said she had long considered transitioning to an employee-owned structure. She said: “West is now worth many millions and I’ve always considered this business to be a team effort rather than me acting as some kind of benevolent dictator.

“I didn’t set out to get rich running a brewery. I’m 44 years old and, rather than selling up to retire and sit on a beach for the rest of my days, I want to share what we’ve achieved over the last 13 years with the people who have helped make it possible.

“So everybody who has worked at West for longer than a year will receive shares in the business, which will be held in trust and vest after five years.”

The brewer has launched more than 30 draught beers in the last 13 years – all brewed in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law, which is thought to be the oldest food law still in existence.

Wetzel said that the move to become employee-owned would help to preserve the company’s legacy for years to come.

She said: “This is about leaving a legacy for the city of Glasgow because if I’d sold the business to a larger entity, I’d have no control over what would happen to West going forward, so this is all about ensuring that everybody who works at West benefits financially.

“It’s not about making me rich; it’s about sharing the benefits with everybody who works hard at West on a regular, annual basis.”

The business has received support from the Scottish Government, which contributed to the funding of the professional advisory fees involved in establishing the new ownership structure.

Andrew Harrison, partner at Co-Ownership Solutions, who is advising on the ownership transition, said: “I’m excited to be working with Petra and West, the first brewery in the UK to become employee owned.

“In a market where many brewery founders are selling out to the big boys to enable them to retire on their wealth, it’s refreshing that a brewery founder has chosen to help her team benefit from their joint endeavours, rather than choosing to feather her own nest.”

There are currently around 100 employee-owned companies operating in Scotland, with approximately 7,000 employee-owners generating a combined turnover of about £940 million.