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Standard Life backs M&B's management

One of Mitchells &amp; Butlers&rsquo; largest institutional shareholders yesterday issued a public statement backing the firm&rsquo;s management, which is facing a revolt from dissident shareholders.<br /><br />Mitchells &amp; Butlers, led by chief executive Adam Fowle, sent documents to the takeover panel this week alleging that Bahamas-based billionaire Joe Lewis, who controls a 23 per cent stake in the group, was &ldquo;undermining the independence and effectiveness of the board&rdquo;.<br /><br />Lewis vetoed the appointment of M&amp;B&rsquo;s chairman Archie Norman and was backed by horseracing tycoons John Magnier and JP McManus, who control 17.5 per cent of the group through their Elpida vehicle. <br /><br />The boardroom brawl prompted Standard Life, one of Britain&rsquo;s largest fund managers, to throw its weight behind Mitchells &amp; Butlers. <br /><br />It said: &ldquo;We support the actions taken by the independent directors of Mitchells &amp; Butlers in so far that they uphold the principles of a unitary board structure and seek to ensure that the company is run in the interests of all its shareholders.&rdquo;<br /><br />The group added: &ldquo;Where shareholder agreements exist, these arrangements should be transparent and should not detract from the principles of best governance practice as they apply to publicly listed companies.&rdquo;<br /><br />The outspoken approach follows calls from City minister Lord Myners, who yesterday urged institutional shareholders to &ldquo;stand up and speak publicly on their position&rdquo;. <br /><br />Lewis denies he attempted to undermine the effectiveness of the board, but warned he may vote against replacement directors up for election at next month&rsquo;s annual meeting. He has appointed heavyweight Ken Costa, chairman of Lazard International, as his adviser. <br /><br />Simon Laffin was appointed M&amp;B chairman earlier this week, in spite of &ldquo;a small number of large shareholders&rdquo; calling for his resignation. He is up for election at January&rsquo;s AGM and could be voted out.<br /><br />Last January, Lewis vetoed M&amp;B&rsquo;s plans to issue new shares without allowing existing shareholders first rights.