David Prosser: Time for M&B to move past the rowing

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The Independent Online

Outlook The Mitchells & Butler affair has been a sorry business from start to end, with some unpleasant episodes of character assassination from both sides and an unwillingness to compromise on the part of the pubs group's rebel shareholders that rather undermined their claims of moral right.

With Joe Lewis's vehicle Piedmont and Elpida, the outfit controlled by JP McManus and John Magnier, in agreement about the crucial votes at yesterday's agm, time was effectively called on M&B chairman Simon Laffin before he had set foot in the meeting. Was it necessary to humiliate Mr Laffin by barring him from taking a formal role in the proceedings (the agm was chaired by chief executive Adam Fowle following a legal challenge from Elpida over Mr Laffin's right to do so)?

There are genuine concerns to be aired over the way in which M&B has been managed in recent times, and its standards of governance. It is also the case that Mr Laffin himself has been confrontational, complaining about Piedmont and Elpida to the Takeover Panel (it was thrown out).

Yet Piedmont, which has taken the lead role in the campaign to shake up the M&B board, has not been willing to accept any compromise with the company, despite the urgings of institutional investors represented by the Association of British Insurers. It is clear the rebel shareholders do not enjoy the support of many smaller investors, and they have also incurred the wrath of institutions such as the life insurer Aviva.

In the end, however, Piedmont and Elpida got their way. The onus is now on the four independent non-executive directors nominated by Piedmont to prove their autonomy and to show they are acting in the interests of all M&B shareholders.

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