BrewDog's new “chief disruption officer” on building businesses, CBD beverages and the next phase of her career

After about 18 months at the helm of BrewDog USA, Tanisha Robinson was facing a crossroads of sorts. The Columbus entrepreneur is a product of the city’s rough-and-tumble startup scene, and even though she didn’t have any experience in the beer business before joining BrewDog, she was on somewhat familiar terrain as she built the Scottish craft brewer’s U.S. operations from the ground up. 

Toward the end of 2018, however, BrewDog USA was entering a more stable phase, and Robinson was getting a bit restless. In January, she presented to her boss, James Watt, BrewDog’s CEO and co-founder, nine blow-stuff-up ideas, a fundamental tenet of the company’s culture (though BrewDog doesn’t use the word “stuff”). The ideas included canned cocktails, CBD-infused beverages and a new technology platform to allow brewers to better manage capacity. Watt liked Robinson’s proposal—and he asked her to start digging into her ideas while continuing to run the company’s U.S. operations—but plans soon changed. “We both sort of arrived at this realization that if I don’t work on these full time, they’re not going to materialize at the pace that we want them to,” says Robinson.

As a result, Watt decided to shake up leadership at his company, creating a new job for Robinson: chief disruption officer. In that new role—which BrewDog announced last week—Robinson “will be responsible for driving business model, product and marketing disruption and innovation in the U.S. and internationally,” according to a BrewDog press release. Robinson describes herself as a “builder in my soul.” And though Canal Winchester-based BrewDog USA has plenty of growing still to do, it’s beginning to move out of the chaotic startup phase in which Robinson excels, as detailed in an October 2017 Columbus Monthly feature.  “There are fewer exciting and innovative things for me to do in the CEO job, and [the new role] gives me an opportunity to impact the business with the kind of laboratory stuff I’m really best at,” Robinson says.

Her duties will expand beyond U.S. borders, including the launch of an Australian brewery. She will remain based in Columbus for now, but that could change depending on the scale and the scope of her international work.

In her new role, one of her top priorities is to expand the DogHouse hotel concept. Robinson says the first DogHouse—billed as the world’s first hotel in a brewery when it opened in August on BrewDog’s Canal Winchester campus—has been “an unbelievable marketing experiential machine,” but its $8 million construction budget might make it cost-prohibitive in other cities. “A big project of mine is rethinking the hotel model,” she says. One option under consideration is connecting Airbnb-style housing to bars that the company has built across the globe, she says.

She’s also excited about breaking into the emerging market for cannabis-derived CBD products, which are proliferating as views and laws pertaining to marijuana evolve. “If I’m going to consume [CBD] while I hang out with my friends, I’m probably not going to bring gummy bears to a party,” she says. “I think people are used to convening around beverages, and so I think from a cultural standpoint, there’s some interesting opportunities in that space that [have] yet to be uncovered.”

Robinson stands out in the craft beer business—an outspoken gay African-American woman in a field dominated by white men. Another woman, Allison Green, BrewDog’s global chief of staff, will replace her as the BrewDog USA chief executive. “I was just super thrilled that James didn’t replace me with a straight white dude,” Robinson says with a laugh.

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