As A century-old family firm called in the administrators, speculation is building as to whether buyers might come forward for all or part of construction business Patton Group.
Neil Patton, chairman of the Ballymena-based firm and the third generation of the family to lead the family business, said it had been suffering "extremely challenging trading conditions," leading to the difficult decision.
Patton Group has a total turnover of around £140m and employs around 320 staff but has suffered £7m losses due to factors including the falling value of its land and the £2m cost of a subsidiary going into administration.
Economist John Simpson, who compiles a list of Northern Ireland's Top 100 Companies, said any of the big Northern Ireland construction companies such as John Graham Holdings, which employs around 1,000 people and has a turnover of £218m, could be planning to make a play for Patton or part of its business.
Patton's recent work has included John Lewis refurbishment contracts in England.
Alternatively, Mr Simpson suggested that the family could win it back if the administrator manages to trade it out of the loss-making position.
He added: "Depending on contract conditions, some of their more profitable contracts could be transferred." While starting out as a house-builder, Patton has expanded over the years into fitting out shops, schools and museums.
Tom Keenan of Keenan Corporate Finance was yesterday appointed as an administrator by the directors themselves.
Mr Keenan will continue to trade the company, and Patton's offices remained opened for business yesterday.
Patton's eight directors include managing director Eamonn Drayne, a former KPMG accountant.
One observer said the decision to appoint an administrator would have been a well-considered one, and described it as a "wise, tactical move" to obtain shelter from creditors.
Along with Farrans and H-amp;J Martin, Patton is also part of a joint venture FMP. It won a £70m contract to work on six schools in the Western Isles of Scotland as part of the Western Isles Schools Project (WISP), funded by the Scottish Government.
Mr Simpson said H-amp;J Martin's work with Patton would grant them some familiarity with the firm, marking it out as a possible buyer. A spokesman for Patton said it would not be making any further comment and that the company's future now lay in the hands of the administrator.
No-one from Farrans or H-amp;J Martin were available for comment yesterday. Neil Patton and his father David are also shareholders in McCue Fit-Out, based in Ballymena.
No-one from McCue was available for comment yesterday.
The number of workers Patton Group employs£7m
The amount of losses suffered by Patton£218m
The turnover of potential takeover firm Graham's£70m
Value of contract Patton had with consortium£140m
The total turnover of the Patton Group