Midland pub group Mitchells & Butlers has invited the four candidates put forward to join its board by rebel shareholder Joe Lewis to meet with headhunters as the firm looks set for an AGM shareholder showdown.
The All Bar One and Harvester owner said the meetings would enable it to formulate its recommendations as to how shareholders should vote on the appointments at its annual general meeting (AGM) on January 28.
The news comes against a backdrop of a boardroom battle between the current incumbents and Lewis’s investment vehicle, Piedmont Inc, which has been linked with plans to take over the firm.
Piedmont, which is M&B’s biggest shareholder with a 23 per cent stake, said on Wednesday it wanted to see former Debenhams chairman John Lovering, Fitness First founder Michael Balfour, former Scottish & Newcastle managing director Jeremy Blood and Majestic Wines Non-executive Chairman Simon Burke appointed to the board.
Piedmont’s proposal was the latest twist in a simmering dispute between Bahamas-based Lewis and the M&B board, which will come to a head at the AGM.
Earlier in December, M&B ousted four directors, including Lewis’ two representatives and two others, and called on the Takeover Panel to rule whether rebel shareholders were trying to gain control of the group.
M&B has accused Lewis of acting in concert with racing magnates JP McManus and John Magnier, who hold a 17.6 per cent stake in the company through their Elpida vehicle.
M&B said its “overriding objectives at the AGM will be to ensure that the board continues to have a majority of directors independent of any allegiance or favour to any single shareholder or group of shareholders”.
In a letter to shareholders, the M&B board urged shareholders to vote in favour of the re-election to the board of Simon Laffin, who was appointed chairman earlier in December, and independent director Antony Bates.
“With over 40 per cent of the equity in the hands of Piedmont and Elpida, these two shareholders could together have a sufficient number of votes to defeat any resolutions put by your board on behalf of all shareholders at the AGM. In situations such as these, every single vote counts,” the board said.