Young's rebel drowned out in fresh round of beer war

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The Independent Online

It is five years since Young & Co, the London-based brewer, abandoned the practice of serving free beer to shareholders at its annual meeting. But as yesterday's event at Wandsworth Civic Town Hall, London, proved, the group has not lost its ability to entertain.

It is five years since Young & Co, the London-based brewer, abandoned the practice of serving free beer to shareholders at its annual meeting. But as yesterday's event at Wandsworth Civic Town Hall, London, proved, the group has not lost its ability to entertain.

John Young, the 78-year-old chairman who has presided over the company like an army general since 1962, arrived dressed in white with a yellow handkerchief protruding from his top pocket and sporting a megaphone. This, he explained, was to help get his message across to Guinness Peat, a rogue shareholder, which has tried for the past three years to force a change in the group's share structure and strategic direction. Mr Young, who last year addressed the meeting wearing a bee keeper's protective hat to emphasise his resolve to keep the group's preferential B shares for family members, said: "It appears that for the third year running, some shareholders don't seem to be able to hear what the majority of shareholders have been saying."

Guinness Peat, an investment company which holds 21 per cent of the Young's ordinary share capital and 10 per cent of the voting shares, submitted a series of resolutions to the AGM to force Young's to overhaul its ownership structure by repaying or enfranchising its non-voting shares. It also wants to put pressure on the company to participate in the current wave of industry consolidation. Amid heckles from shareholders who called on him to "sit down" and "stop mumbling", Blake Nixon, Guinness Peat's UK executive director, said: "The return on capital for 2000, of 6 per cent, is unacceptably low. You could get more than that by putting your money in a bank." All the motions were defeated by an average majority of three to one. One independent shareholder said: "I just wonder why, if Guinness Peat is so dissatisfied with the return on capital, they don't just sell their shares."

After the meeting, Mr Nixon was in a philosophical mood. He said: "We'll just keep going. We are winning the intellectual argument. Sooner or later, people will want to see a return on their money."

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