Petra M. Wetzel
Role and company:
Founder and MD of WEST Brewery
Growth forecast for the next three years:
WEST is in the process of building a £9m second production brewery in Glasgow which will not only house one of the most advanced, German-built breweries in the world, but will also be home to a space which will allow visitors to interact with the award-winning lagers and wheat beers that WEST produces. WEST has a vision for a brewing centre of excellence, which is home to a music/events venue and visitor attraction right in the heart of Glasgow, one of the UK’s most vibrant cities.
In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:
WEST is Scotland’s Premium lager brewery and the only brewery in the UK to brew all of its lagers and wheat beers in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot, the ancient German Purity Law dating from 1516.
What’s the big vision for your business?
Amongst the big beer players on the UK scene, WEST has established itself as a true alternative to mass-produced lager. WEST’s vision is to become synonymous with Premium lager produced in the UK to exacting German standards. WEST will never be the biggest brewery in the UK but has a firm vision to produce the best beer that money can buy. Our team’s vision is for the WEST logo to become a quality mark which discerning beer drinkers seek out.
Current level of international business, and future aspirations:
At present, a small percentage of our annual beer production is sold in Italy and the US and exporting is an area of interest for me as I continue to look at ways to grow the business.
I recently took part in the Santander Breakthrough Programme which allowed me to travel to New York as part of a trade mission to investigate potential exporting possibilities in the American market. The country has a natural affinity for lagers and pale lagers and so the USA seems to be a perfect fit for the business. Tourists visiting Scotland always seem to fall in love with St. Mungo lager and, once they’re back home, will email us directly to find out where they can buy the product. There’s always been much interest from America, so this was the perfect opportunity to find out more. As a result, exporting is a real focus for WEST in 2013.
Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:
I started WEST in 2006 with my then husband who ran the business while I was training to be a lawyer. I had invested a lot of my money into the company, but the business went into administration in 2008. I lost my house in the process and by then I was a single parent to a two-year-old.
The crazy thing was that I decided to buy the business out of administration in order to prove that a German-style premium lager brewery in Scotland was a brilliant idea. I guess I have learned that with hard work, dedication and the love of your family and friends you can almost achieve anything. Today WEST is a successful business that is expanding and I am a much happier brewer than I ever was a lawyer!
What makes you mad in business today?
People who are only after short-term gain without looking at the bigger, long-term picture. I get frustrated with people who tell a quick or cheap lie to get “one up on you”. My experience tells me it always bites you on the backside eventually, but lots of people still try to get away with it.
What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?
The UK beer scene has changed dramatically in the last five years since I have been a part of it, and I am confident that the changes we have seen to date will have a positive impact on the industry going forward. There is more choice for consumers than ever before, both in the on-trade, like bars and pubs and the off-trade, such as supermarkets and small off-licences. The lovely thing about choice is that you as the consumer can decide what beers you want to drink and who you want to support.
Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?
Access to finance seems to be a challenge not just for breweries but for most businesses at the moment. Although it took a long time to pull together the finance for our new project, initiatives such as the Santander Breakthrough Programme have significantly helped business development. Luckily, the Scottish government also realises the potential WEST has as a local employer as well as how much we contribute to the regeneration of Glasgow. We also have a brilliant team of individual investors backing WEST and a bank that is enlightened!
How would others describe your leadership style?
My team call me the Kaiser. I guess that sums it up. I think they think I am firm but fair. Everyone makes mistakes. Just don’t make the same one twice, please.
Your biggest personal extravagance?
I’m not into clothes, jewellery or handbags. I’m a total petrol head and I have just test driven my next car, an Audi A6 Allroad. I think I may be in love.
You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:
I was born and brought up in Germany, a country that has prospered due to the huge success of its SMEs. I’m a total advocate of small companies being the powerhouse of any economy. Make sure the little guys get a great start, are able to grow and you will have an economy that will generate you plenty of taxes to look after the weaker members of our society. In fact, don’t let me near the man, two minutes wouldn’t be enough!
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