The unexplained departure of Simon Burke yesterday as chairman of Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) to be replaced by industry veteran Bob Ivell, has again fuelled speculation that shareholders Joe Lewis and Elpida are looking to take the managed pub operator private. Ivell, who joined M&B as a non-executive director in May, was previously deputy chairman of Next Generation Clubs at a time when it was owned by a group of Irish investors, including John Magnier and JP McManus, who currently hold a 20.1% in the managed pub operator through investment vehicle Elpida. At the same time, Ron Robson, a shareholder representative of Piedmont, the investment vehicle of leading shareholder Joe Lewis, was appointed to the role of non-executive deputy chairman. Shares in M&B dipped below 300p to 295p yesterday on the back of the boardroom changes, raising the prospect of a lowball bid to take the company private. Paul Hickman analyst at Peel Hunt said: “We have already seen elsewhere in the broader leisure sector that large shareholders do not always have to offer significant premia to take control of attractive assets." In a note entitled: Time to join the rush for the exit, Hickman said that the “the latest round of musical chairs at the company is hardly going to help narrow the discount to the peer group; indeed, it is likely to exacerbate it”. He said: “Given this and the instability at a corporate level, we move to a sell recommendation.” Burke became the third chairman in 18 months to leave M&B and follows the departures of Simon Laffin in January 2010 and John Lovering in February 2011. The reasons for his departure, he was a Piedmont appointment, were unclear but Jeffrey Harwood, analyst at Oriel Securities, said: "We believe it boils down to disagreements between the board and the major shareholders.” "It is an extraordinary turn of events. I think it is a very disappointing development for shareholders, as Burke had only been chairman since February. It is a shame because there is a very good business within the company. But institutional shareholders are dismayed by the constant resignations at board level." Nigel Parson, analyst at Evolution Securities, welcomed the appointment of the experienced Ivell as interim chairman but showed concern for his long-term prospects. He also highlighted that there was Still no news about the appointment of a new CEO, with Jeremy Blood continuing to fill the role on an interim basis. He said: “Ivell is a real industry pro and has been MD of S&N Retail, MD of Beefeater Restaurants and chairman of Regent Inns. He has a wealth of experience to add to operations and strategic direction but can he cope with the aggravation that goes with the job? His life-expectancy in the post is not high.” M&B also announced yesterday that Michael Balfour is to step down as a non-executive director.