Mitchells & Butlers seeks to rein in its biggest shareholder

Board's relationship with Joe Lewis is increasingly difficult, says pubs group
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Mitchells & Butlers, the restaurant and pubs operator which owns the Harvester and All Bar One brands, has asked the Takeover Panel to look at the influence that its biggest shareholder, the billionaire Joe Lewis, is exerting over the group.

M&B yesterday cited two areas of concern, following reports at the weekend that Mr Lewis, who is based in the Bahamas, had blocked M&B from hiring Archie Norman, the former chief executive of Asda, as chairman to replace Drummond Hall, who wants to step down.

M&B added that Mr Lewis, whose investment vehicle Piedmont owns 23 per cent of M&B, had requested the resignation of the senior independent board director Simon Laffin. The pubs group said it would "imminently" submit evidence to the Takeover Panel that a number of shareholders were seeking to gain control of the board and of the company to "advance the interests of a small group of shareholders at the expense of others".

The second-largest shareholder of M&B is Elpida, the investment vehicle of the Irish horse-racing tycoons JP McManus and John Magnier.

Last week M&B, which has more than 2,000 pubs, posted a 23.9 per cent fall in adjusted pre-tax profits to £134m in the year to 26 September, after it was hit by rising costs. But its underlying sales rose by 1.6 per cent over the year, reaffirming it as one of the sector's most resilient performers.

M&B said yesterday: "The majority of the board would like to bring to shareholders' attention two actions by a shareholder representative of Piedmont Inc which together could potentially undermine the independence and effectiveness of the board."

Mr Lewis bought his 23 per cent of M&B from Robert Tchenguiz, the property tycoon who lost a fortune in the Icelandic banking crisis, in the autumn of 2008. In January, Mr Lewis also voted against the group's remuneration policy at its annual meeting and opposed a resolution to allow M&B to raise funds worth up to 5 per cent of its shares without giving pre-emption rights to shareholders.

M&B's statement added: "The majority of the board is continuing to work to strengthen the board through further independent appointments, and to identify an independent candidate to succeed the chairman, Mr Drummond, urgently."