British pubs and restaurants group Mitchells & Butlers
At its annual shareholder meeting on Thursday, 14.3 percent of investors voted against the re-election of M&B's only two non-executive directors, Ron Robson and Doug McMahon, who both represent Lewis's investment vehicle, Piedmont.
Around one in five shareholders either opposed the resolutions or withheld their votes, ramping up the pressure on the owner of All Bar One and Harvester to beef up its board with independent non-executives.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI), which represents about 20 percent of M&B's shareholders, had issued a 'red top' alert on the company, its strongest possible warning about governance concerns, singling it out as the only FTSE-350 firm which currently has no independent non-executive directors.
British corporate governance watchdog PIRC, which advises institutional investors, had urged its members to vote against the re-election of both Robson and McMahon.
In an interview with Reuters following the vote, Executive Chairman Bob Ivell vowed to address shareholder concerns.
I'm getting on and sorting it out. Clearly, I recognise the need to have independent directors, what I don't want is people that don't add value to the business. Finding the right people is important to me and that's what I'm looking at, he said.
Industry veteran Ivell, a former managing director of Scottish & Newcastle's managed pub division and a senior independent director of Britvic
M&B has suffered from unprecedented boardroom upheaval since Lewis acquired his stake from property entrepreneur Robert Tchenguiz in November 2008. Six chairmen have come and gone in the past three years amid accusations Lewis, who holds a stake of over 25 percent, wields too much influence.
The company, which has around 1,600 pubs and restaurants and whose other chains include Toby Carvery and Browns, has been without a chief executive since previous incumbent Adam Fowle left his post last March.
Ivell, who is leading the search for a new CEO, was upbeat about his progress.
We're well on track, I would say ahead. We've got a shortlist. I took over as executive chairman in October, we're in January. It's not a lot of time to recruit. I started the process all over again and refocused it.
Last year M&B, which has net debt of about 1.9 billion pounds, was the subject of two rejected bid approaches from septuagenarian Lewis, who made his fortune through currency trading.
Lewis, who also owns Premier League soccer club Tottenham Hotspur, aborted a 940 million pounds takeover offer in October and, under takeover rules, is prohibited from making another approach until April.
Ivell declined to comment on the likelihood of a new bid but said he had held positive discussions with the billionaire.
Lewis's investment vehicle, Piedmont opposed the company's proposal on Thursday to be allowed to buy back up to 10 percent of its shares. A source familiar with the situation said it wanted M&B to preserve cash.
M&B reported better-than-expected Christmas trading with sales at restaurants and pubs open more than a year rising 4.4 percent in the 17 weeks to January 21.
That compared with analyst expectations for growth of 2-3.5 percent, according to a Reuters poll, and reflected milder weather over the Christmas and New Year period compared with the previous year as well as strong demand for casual dining.
M&B said trading in January had been more subdued but consistent with the underlying like-for-like sales trend first noted in July last year of around 1 percent growth.
Shares in M&B were up 2.4 percent to 264.7 pence at 1608 GMT, valuing the business at around 1.1 billion pounds.
(Reporting by Matt Scuffham and James Davey; editing by Neil Maidment)