The Irish racing tycoons who own the second-biggest shareholding in pub group Mitchells & Butlers have appointed their first non-executive director, amid speculation about a renewed takeover offer for the company next month.
In a statement, M&B said that John Magnier and JP McManus, whose Elpida investment vehicle holds a 20.8 per cent stake in the group, had appointed Edward Irwin as a non-independent non-executive director.
Mr Irwin is the finance director of Coolmore, Mr Magnier’s racehorse breeding business.
M&B investors are waiting to see if Piedmont, the investment vehicle of Bahamas-based currency trader Joe Lewis, makes a renewed offer for the pub group.
Mr Lewis, who has a 25.7 per cent stake in M&B, was criticised by some investors and analysts for making what they considered a lowball indicative offer of 230p a share last summer.
Under Takeover Panel rules, bidders who withdraw offers have to wait six months before they can return with a new approach. In Piedmont’s case, this period expires next month.
Bob Ivell, M&B’s executive chairman, welcomed Mr Irwin’s appointment from “a supportive shareholder”. According to a person familiar with internal discussions, Mr Irwin could “improve the balance of the board” which has been a frequent target of criticism from Mr Lewis.
The M&B board has just two non-executive directors, both of whom are representatives of Piedmont.
Paul Hickman, an analyst at Peel Hunt, warned that the continued lack of independent non-executive directors was damaging the company.
“Elpida, with the scale of their shareholding, are entitled to a representative but it doesn’t alter the situation with regard to there being no chief executive or independent non executives,” he said. “That is the major drawback to what is otherwise a very attractive investment proposition.”
The appointment comes more than a year since M&B began searching for a permanent successor to Adam Fowle, the former chief executive, who stepped down in March 2011. The company is also searching for independent non-executive directors.
Mr Ivell has drawn up a shortlist of three candidates for the chief executive position, after the job was spurned by three high-profile industry executives amid concerns at the influence wielded by Mr Lewis.
The Takeover Panel has previously investigated allegations of a concert party between Elpida and Mr Lewis at M&B but in January 2010 ruled there was no evidence to support them.
M&B shares were down 0.1p to 275.4p in early afternoon trading.
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