By GEOFF SENESCALL
Dunedin-based Wilson Neill is set to get a new major shareholder as it looks to yet again invent itself, this time as an e-commerce company.
The former brewer, commodities trader and hotelier has confirmed it is talking to a potential suitor amid speculation that Jump Capital was poised to make up to a $30 million investment in the grey-listed firm.
It is understood that due diligence has been carried out on Wilson Neill subsidiary Radionet by Jump, which wants to get into telecommunications and is a registered bidder in the Government's radio spectrum auction.
Jump's principal, Leigh Davis, declined to comment yesterday on the possibility of taking a major stake in Wilson Neill.
Wilson Neill director Paul Hyslop would not name the investor but said the firm was in talks with one group.
"We have been talking to parties probably for the last three months." Discussions were held with several overseas parties including major telecommunications companies.
"We have got 8000 shareholders who have been loyal to the company and we want to make sure that at the end of the day we do the right deal for them," said Mr Hyslop.
The share price in the past year had gone from 1c to 18c.
Wilson Neill - a former sharemarket darling which ran into debt and was delisted in 1996 - counts Cobb & Co restaurant franchises and Parnell restaurant Iguacu among its hospitality assets.
In February, it branched out into IT by buying Radionet in a share deal worth around $3.75 million. The purchase gave Wilson Neill the worldwide rights to Radionet and its high-speed broadband wireless technology for data communication.
Unlike its competitor in New Zealand, Walker Wireless, Radionet is not in the bidding for radio spectrum.
Walker Wireless - which recently reeled in investors such as Craig Heatley, the Todd family and Stephen Tindall - is bidding for 2G spectrum. Jump has yet to bid but also has its eye on the 2G spectrum.
In May, Wilson Neill sold the Australian rights to Radionet to Sydney-based public firm Mount Conqueror Minerals for $24 million. Wilson Neill was paid in Mount Conqueror scrip.
Mount Conqueror's relisting is due out soon. Speculation is it will value the company at around $50 million.
Mr Hyslop said Wilson Neill would relist once changes to the company's constitution are complete.
By GEOFF SENESCALL