Lewis set to get his 'dream team' installed to run M&B

BILLIONAIRE investor Joe Lewis is poised to win the boardroom battle for control of pubs group Mitchells & Butlers as most shareholders are expected to throw their weight behind his campaign to install four directors.

It is believed Lewis's Piedmont vehicle, M&B's biggest shareholder with 23 per cent, has spoken to about 80 per cent of non-aligned institutional investors and reckons on major support.

However, M&B's board cast doubt on this yesterday by saying it was "appreciative of the continued support of its institutional investors".

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It is believed institutions canvassed by Lewis have included several owning about 1 per cent of M&B, and a couple with holdings around the 2-3 per cent mark. It is also thought Lewis, a Bahamas-based currency trader, feels the pub group's small shareholders are likely to vote with him.

In an escalating dispute about corporate governance at M&B, Piedmont has nominated four new non-executive directors at the company at this Thursday's AGM. The board and Lewis agree on two of them: John Lovering, recently chairman of Debenhams, and Simon Burke, former chief executive of Hamleys toy shop.

But the M&B board is against the other two – Jeremy Blood, a former director of Scottish & Newcastle, and Mike Balfour, founder of Fitness First. Piedmont has also said it will not be voting for the election of Simon Laffin as chairman.

Elpida, the investment vehicle of Irish racing magnates JP McManus and John Magnier, which holds a 17.6 per cent M&B stake, is believed to support Lewis's plan.

The Leo hedge fund, with about 3 per cent, is also understood to be in the rebel camp, meaning the rebels already speak for comfortably more than 40 per cent of the shares. Lewis is said to be heartened by the response of some other institutions – one understood to have described his nominations as "a dream team".

It is thought Lewis believes small shareholders in the public company, estimated to be 5 to 10 per cent of the votes, some of them former M&B employees with pensions, will be outraged at the generous pension arrangements decided on for some directors in a time of great austerity.

Last year's annual report showed that former chief executive Tim Clarke, who eventually fell on his sword for major losses on "swaps" contracts at M&B, saw his pension more than double to 8.1m between 2007 and 2009.