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SANTA ANA–Grubb & Ellis Co.’s announcement on Friday that its board of directors has accepted the resignation of Scott D. Peters as CEO, president and director, effective immediately is not part of an executive shakeup at the firm, the newly appointed interim CEO says.

The only thing being mentioned so far about Peters’ reasons for leaving the helm of the Santa Ana, CA-based firm is in a statement issued by the company that says “Peters resigned to pursue other interests.”

Peters is expected to continue as a strategic advisor to the company and there has been no change in his status as chairman and CEO of Grubb & Ellis Healthcare REIT or as executive vice president of Grubb & Ellis Apartment REIT, according to the company.

The board appointed independent director Gary H. Hunt as interim CEO and has established a search committee to seek out a permanent CEO. Hunt currently serves on the board of directors of William Lyon Co. and is chairman of the advisory board of Kennecott Land Co, as well as a senior advisor to Lennar Corp., Tejon Ranch Co. and DMB LLC of Scottsdale, Ariz. Hunt was previously the executive vice president and a member of the board and executive committee of The Irvine Co.

Hunt maintains that Peters wasn’t forced out of the CEO position, and that the decision to step down was Peters’ own. A Grubb & Ellis spokesperson said Peters wasn’t taking press calls on Friday.

Hunt also takes exception to reports that executive shakeups are underway at Grubb & Ellis. “I think it’s a mis-characterization to say that there’s been a lot of changes going on,” Hunt tells Globest.com. “I don’t view this as an executive shakeup.” However, Hunt declined to offer details on Peters departure, saying, “the statement that we released speaks for itself.”

Hunt says the firm will stay on its current course. “I think the primary mission is just to continue to execute the business plan and the strategies that were developed when the companies were merged in December,” Hunt says. “I feel very optimistic about proceeding on the course we have been on.”

That course includes the integration of the two companies, Grubb & Ellis and NNN Realty Advisors, to expand and improve on the offices around the country, and “stabilizing and enhancing shareholder value,” Hunt notes.

Hunt also notes the board has moved to reduce debt, one of those moves was to announce it’s suspending shareholder dividends in the next quarter, and initiating a $25 million stock buyback over the next 12 months. The latter move is not merely to bolster confidence in the stock, Hunt says, adding, “The stock is undervalued in our judgment at this point.”

Grubb & Ellis has lost some key people this year, but Peters is the first one to stay on board in some fashion. Those departures include <bTony Thompson, who has now filed an SEC document seeking a board seat and faulting the company’s direction. Thompson, the company’s second-largest shareholder, wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Thompson has asked to be reappointed to the company’s board to correct what he sees as serious problems at the firm. Thompson, in an SEC filing, said that in the months since he resigned all of his posts at Grubb & Ellis, the company “has announced poor results, been wracked by management turnover, and suffered an expensive and embarrassing setback when the special purpose acquisition vehicle that it sponsored, unceremoniously failed.” Hunt declined to comment on Thompson’s wishes to return to the board.

In June, Robert Osbrink has left his post as executive vice president and chairman of transaction services for Grubb & Ellis after 20 years with the firm.

Some experts say to expect more executive-level changes in the industry as the operating climate becomes more difficult and both firms and executives seek new ways to overcome the lackluster market. “This is just a very, very difficult economy,” says Jim Ellis, dean of USC’s Marshall School of Business. “In commercial real estate, they are really starting to feel the brunt of things. You’re going to see a lot more changes take place.”

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