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Business News

Rebels call time on M&B board

The Bahamas-based billionaire Joe Lewis triumphed in his boardroom battle with Mitchells & Butlers yesterday after rebel investors ousted three directors, including the chairman, Simon Laffin, from the pub group at its annual meeting.

All four of Mr Lewis's nominees were elected as non-executive directors, including John Lovering, the former chairman of Debenhams, who will replace Mr Laffin. Mr Lovering said the board would put "history behind us and move forward". The new chairman also promised to conduct a thorough review of the business, which will be presented to all shareholders by the end of March.

The new board members – who also include Majestic Wine's chairman, Simon Burke, Jeremy Blood, the former managing director of Scottish & Newcastle, and Mike Balfour, founder of Fitness First, acknowledged investors' concerns about the way they were nominated by Mr Lewis's investment vehicle Piedmont, which holds 22.8 per cent of M&B's shares. They pledged to "stand for election at the next AGM and stand down if we do not command support from a majority of shareholders excluding Piedmont".

The former chairman was supported by an army of private shareholders and a number of institutions who argued that the rebels had exerted too much influence, but 66 per cent of the shareholders voted against Mr Laffin. These included Elpida, the investment vehicle of the Irish racing tycoons John Magnier and JP McManus, which holds 17.5 per cent of M&B. Elpida also attacked the old board at the AGM over M&B's hedging fiasco, which cost the company nearly £500m over the past two years. Other investors were more forgiving. Mike Fisher, a retail shareholder, lambasted as "petty, pathetic machinations" the recent attacks on the board by rebel shareholders.