Profile: Joe Lewis, billionaire investor

THE billionaire investor in pubs group Mitchells & Butlers, Joe Lewis, is notoriously publicity shy.

So the unseemly spat between him and the board of the pubs group has created unwelcome headlines. Why did he pick this fight?

A spokesman for Lewis is clear: "Joe Lewis didn't pick the fight. We are reacting to a series of events. We didn't pick the fight, they did."

The fight followed the ousting of two of Lewis's representatives from the board together with two other directors. He has named four nominees for election on Thursday which, promises to be an eventful day.

Lewis won't be there, but the representatives of his investment vehicle, Piedmont, are clearly spoiling for a good day out, unless an unlikely compromise can be reached beforehand.

In what has become an increasingly personal and bitter wrangle, involving the Takeover Panel and front bench Westminster politicians, the M&B "bar room brawl" is turning into quite a spectacle.

In a nutshell, Piedmont wants to remove chairman Simon Laffin and will ask the new directors to conduct a review of the business and report to shareholders within 60 days.

Lewis will be awaiting the outcome from his home in the Bahamas from where he oversees this and his other investments in 15 countries. He once held a stake in Rangers Football Club and now owns Tottenham Hotspur.

His nickname, the Boxer, stems from his homophonic namesake, world heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, and Lewis seems to relish it, naming one of the companies under his management "Boxer Asset Management".

In 2008 Forbes magazine named him the 368th richest man in the world, with a fortune estimated to be between $2bn to $5bn.

His stake in M&B, the largest chain of managed pubs in the UK, is worth about 260m which means he owns a good part of UK chains such as All Bar One, Vintage Inns, Harvester and O'Neills. He is a recent investor, having bought the shares from Iranian-born tycoon Robert Tchenguiz, who was desperate to sell after getting caught short in the banking crisis. It was Tchenguiz who led M&B into a disastrous 4.5 billion pubs sale and lease-back deal which resulted in the company losing hundred of millions on a hedge instrument in 2008.

Buying the pubs was a return to form for the globetrotting Lewis, who made his first real money in the leisure trade.

Born above the Roman Arms pub in the gritty east end of London, he left school at 15 to work in his father's cafe.

The venturesome youngster turned his father's business into a string of restaurants aimed at the tourist market – chains included the Beefeater which did medieval banquets, and the East End-themed Cockney Pride Tavern, as well as the West End nightclub, the Hanover Grand.

He sold up in 1979 for 30m and moved to the Bahamas. But it wasn't until he started as a currency speculator that he made it as a true financial heavyweight.

One City commentator said: "What is intriguing about Lewis is how he went from being the geezer who made a mint in London restaurants to a fully fledged member of the world's super-rich."

The answer is he made his fortune as a currency speculator. A preoccupation starting with owning shops with bureau de change, it would prove his ticket. Like George Soros, he bet on the fall of the UK pound on "Black Wednesday", which forced the UK to withdraw from the European Exchange Mechanism (ERM) but won him hundred of millions. He did the same thing three years later betting against the Mexican peso.

Not all bets have gone his way and like most gamblers, he has seen much higher stakes slip through his fingers.

The Boxer was most bloodied following a dangerous punt on New York investment bank, Bear Stearns. Convinced in September 2008 the banks were due a correction, he splashed out 400m on a 10 per cent stake, becoming its biggest shareholder.

But he, like most others, didn't factor in the collapse of Lehman Brothers which took a good number of the world's banks perilously down with it. He was not pleased. When the crumbling remnants of the failed merchant bank Bear Stearns was bought out by JP Morgan Chase, the angered investor called their bid "derisory".

But although it wiped out a significant proportion of his wealth, he carried on.

Richard McGuire, a former City Group banker, joined Lewis two years ago to run Piedmont and says he is still very much a going concern. He hints that Lewis is also looking at property deals in Scotland.

Lewis has sprawling estates in Florida, Argentina and Lyford Cay in the Bahamas. In Orlando, he owns Isleworth, a 600-acre golf resort with waterfront mansion and its sister resort at Lake Nona.

On the western tip of the Bahamian island of New Providence, he built another home and 300 luxury houses on 1000 acres. The resort was used as a setting in the James Bond film, Casino Royale. It is not the only brush Lewis has had with Bond. Fellow Bahamian resident Sir Sean Connery is a friend, and is believed to have been behind Lewis's former investment in Rangers.

A keen golfer, Lewis also counts golf star Tiger Woods as a close associate. He once paid $1.4m to play a round of golf with Woods for charity, while Woods has said that he tends to run business ventures past Lewis for his opinion, referring to him as his business mentor.

Woods is a partner in Lewis's billion-dollar Albany development of a further 223-hectare site on the south of New Providence.

And when pictures of Woods' infamous car accident were flashed around the world they would have been familiar to his business partner. They were taken at the golfer's house in Isleworth, a gated luxury complex in Florida owned by one Joe Lewis.

BACKGROUND

JOSEPH Charles Lewis was born on 5 February, 1937 in London

A passionate art collector, Lewis failed in an attempt to take over auction house Christie's, but he keeps priceless works by Picasso, Miro and Chagall aboard his 220ft yacht, Aviva.

He has two children with his first wife, Esther, a waitress in his parents' restaurant. His second wife, Jane, was formerly his secretary. Daughter Vivienne runs the Tavistock charitable foundation and the Charles Lewis Cancer Research Institute, which was set up following the death of Lewis's father from cancer. He has plans to create "Medical City" on a 7,000-acre campus on Lake Nona, where he owns a golf resort.

His investment firm Tavistock has distribution rights to sportswear firm Puma, footwear group Vans, Gottex (swimsuits) in some Latin American countries, Freddo (ice cream), Bristol Cars, Condici (women's apparel) and Microdyn (antibacterial and water-purification products). It also hosts the Tavistock Cup golf tournament. It owns the Tottenham Hotspur and Slavia Prague soccer teams and Enic, a gaming company.