Simon Laffin, the chairman, knew his time at the helm of the pub chain was up. Sympathetic cheers from the swathes of minority shareholders packed into the ICC Birmingham would have come as scant consolation.
Laffin had been living on borrowed time since majority shareholder Joe Lewis decided he was no longer the man for the job. The Bahamas-based currency magnate commanded almost 50 per cent of the votes thanks to a tie-up with Irish horse racing tycoons John Magnier and JP McManus and after barely an hour, Lewis’ clunking fist duly knocked Laffin off his perch.
The row erupted over who should sit on the board of the group that owns O’Neills and All Bar One. The last straw came when Laffin called on shareholders to reject two of four directors nominated by Lewis.
Outgoing Debenhams chairman John Lovering is expected to take up the role of chairman on the new-look board. Three other non-executives backed by Lewis were also voted on.
The majority of small shareholders were against the wholesale changes proposed by Lewis, claiming the events amount to a company coup, but were powerless to stop him. Some are now threatening to seek legal advice over the vote.
Big shareholding groups were not happy either. Peter Montagnon, director of Investment Affairs at the Association of British Insurers, said: “Our members accept the result, but they remain extremely uncomfortable with the process which has enabled a minority shareholder to determine the composition of the board without paying a premium for control. There are important issues of principle here which we will analyse carefully.”