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Day in the Life: BrewDog CFO Jason Marshall

Jason Marshall, new CFO at craft beer company BrewDog, tells Peter Taylor-Whiffen how he switched from global giant Coca-Cola to an anarchic, disruptive organisation that’s “happy being scrappy”

How I changed career

I’d been at Coca-Cola for 20 years, having joined from Coopers & Lybrand and worked my way up at Coca-Cola European Partners to become vice president finance, supply chain. I loved working for one of the few brands on the planet that absolutely everyone knows. And it brought fantastic experiences – as Coca-Cola sponsors the Olympics, I was on a steering committee for London 2012 and took my family to rehearsals, both closing ceremonies and Super Saturday.

But I’d always ultimately wanted to be a CFO and knew I’d have to go to a smaller organisation for that. The opportunity came up at BrewDog and as soon as I met co-founders James Watt and Martin Dickie, their exciting, disruptive, anarchic culture blew me away. They valued my experience – insight, value creation, business partnering, all things that could mature their business – but wanted to embrace it without losing BrewDog’s DNA or watering down their culture. They have this saying, “happy being scrappy”.

I’ve gone from the world’s biggest brand to a company that had to fight for everything, even in its own industry. I love it. BrewDog has such energy – I am learning as much from them as they are from me.

My typical day

There isn’t one. My Monday has a structure – I leave my house near Reading early to catch a flight from Heathrow to Aberdeen and then travel 15 miles to BrewDog’s base in Ellon, and don’t come home until Thursday night. Within that time I am doing CFO things such as developing SAP modules, reviewing our capital investments, developing robust process for investment appraisal, doing reviews and strategy for the board. As I’m still in my first year here, I’m developing the structure of my team. Friday is often meetings back in England.

But outside that, my job has huge variety. Everyone in BrewDog, whatever your job, is trained to become a certified cicerone – a beer sommelier – so I’ve been doing that. We also have an initiative called Dogs on Deck, which gives all employees the opportunity to do shifts at any of our 70 bars around the country.

I’ve done loads and I love them – I get to meet our frontline crew, but also have proper chats to consumers – and it’s great fun too. I’m nearly 49 and love learning – if there is one typical thing I do every day, it’s learn.

The challenges I’ve overcome

One of the greatest challenges at BrewDog has been learning to do things differently. There is such a fantastic entrepreneurial spirit, every voice is encouraged and heard. I loved working at Coca-Cola, but it was a machine, with its routines and meetings.

Many of those types of meetings don’t exist at BrewDog. Coming in here, I had to embrace BrewDog’s disruptive ways while understanding this is exactly why they’re so successful. That took some getting used to. On a personal level, the challenge is being away from my wife Samantha and three children, aged 11 to 16, every week.

At Coca-Cola I might have gone to meetings in Madrid, or Stockholm, but the next week I might not go anywhere. At BrewDog, being away every Monday to Thursday is hard, but it has made me focus on my family when I am with them. We probably do more at weekends together than if I was there during the week. I miss them, but that makes me really keen to make the most of every minute we do have together.

Industry quirks

The key tenet of the craft beer industry is the passion for encouraging people to try new things. BrewDog is committed to progressing our customers’ understanding of different flavours and types of beer. Every time you ask a customer to try something new, it’s a risk. But quality is at the heart of our products and our consumers recognise that quality.

Our reputation makes them take a risk, and pay for it. We also progress our customers’ experience. Going into a BrewDog bar isn’t like buying a major brewery pint from a high street pub. And we’re expanding that – we’ve just opened the world’s first beer hotel, the Doghouse, in Colombus, Ohio. Our quirk is encouraging people to do things they’ve never tried before.

My responsibilities

It’s essential to keep a balance between professional commitments, family and your own wellbeing. There have been times in my career when I haven’t done that, and throwing yourself into a new job does mean monitoring that balance very closely.

That is my main responsibility. Professionally of course, I’m responsible for all the day-to-day finance functions, but I also have a responsibility to develop my team. BrewDog is now 10 years old but is still growing fast and its disruptive element makes it like a start-up in nature. I have a responsibility to add value – but know that we add more value as a team than I would on my own, so I embrace a responsibility for developing and managing them to enable us to do that.

The habits of an accountant

Is there such a thing as a typical accountant? My main habit is asking questions – I think it’s my main asset, too. I’ll always be focused on the finance, the profit and loss, but I like to be immersed in a business to understand what makes it tick and curiosity is the key to that. Whatever your role, I think you only make the best decisions in the interests of the company by really understanding how it works.

How the ACA helped my career

My training gave me the ability to look at both the very fine detail and the very broad strategy, and to switch between the two – to assess things from a short-term and long-term perspective, to understand how business works and understand the drivers behind performance and decisions.

I began training in Pontypridd at O’Brien & James, which was good, but moving to Coopers & Lybrand took that up a gear and I learned how to explain financial concepts and implications in a really clear, accessible way that small business clients could understand. I think being able to speak directly helped me get the job at BrewDog. My mentor at Coopers & Lybrand remains a good friend and a great source of support and advice, and I have made numerous other contacts and friends through being an accountant.

Originally published in Economia on 7 March 2019.