Simon English: What's your game Lewis? Either make a bid for Mitchells & Butlers or move on
Friday 27 January 2012
Outlook: What does Joe Lewis want with Mitchells & Butlers? It's several years since his Piedmont investment vehicle first acquired a stake in the pubs group and we are no closer to a proper answer.
He's complained variously about cultural issues and pension deficits. About a lack of accountability and a need to inject more entrepreneurial drive into the business.
Mr Lewis might have a point on these issues, or he might not. But it's pretty hard to see how his presence on the shareholder register can be classed as anything other than relentlessly disruptive.
One analyst yesterday said the shares are presently "uninvestable" while the chaos Mr Lewis has helped unleash continues.
The results from the annual meeting yesterday were typically skittish. Someone bothered to vote against the approval of the remuneration report, a move that looks pernickety rather than principled. That someone is assumed to be Piedmont, though they aren't saying. If it is Piedmont, what's their point? It's hard to escape the conclusion sometimes that they just like mucking around.
The business has been without a chief executive for nearly a year. It seems no worse for it, interestingly, but it's hard to see why a serious candidate would want to take the job on given the almost constant interference from the biggest shareholder.
Mr Lewis is usually described as a Bahamas-based currency trader, which is true, suggesting he shouldn't be investing in pubs in the first place. But it's not the full picture; in fairness he does have food and drink interests in the US.
Still, what's his game? It seems safe to assume that he isn't holding on to the M&B stake because of a life-long passion for providing hard-pressed families in Birmingham with nice places to eat and drink at prices they can afford.
So if it's just a takeover play, he should get on with it. He's free to launch a proper bid in April, following a joke one last year. If he doesn't want to commit to that, perhaps he should move on.
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