ORLANDO-After 15 years of working with locally based CNL Financial Group as the lead investment banker on numerous key real estate transactions, Tom Sittema has joined the firm full time. The former managing director of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s real estate investment banking division has taken on the new position as CEO of CNL Real Estate Group.

Sittema was hired in August to take on the position at CNL, a privately held REIT and development company, effective Oct. 26. He reports directly to Jim Seneff, chairman and CEO of CNL, and is also a member of its executive committee.

“I moved from being an agent for a client to becoming a principal,” Sittema tells GlobeSt.com. He says the transition to CNL was made easier by learning about the company from the outside.

An MBA graduate from Indiana University, Sittema was the lead banker and advisor on three market-peak transactions totaling $15 billion in 2006 and 2007. This includes the $5.2-billion sale of CNL Retirement Properties to Health Care Property Investors Inc., the $3-billion sale of Trustreet to GE Capital Solutions and the $6.6-billion sale of CNL Hotels & Resorts to Morgan Stanley Real Estate.

Now that commercial real estate is in a down cycle, he says CNL is in a position to take advantage of opportunities both at home and abroad. The company recently launched a $1.5-billion non-traded REIT with Australia’s Macquarie Group Ltd. that is geared toward both US and international property acquisitions.

“It’s one of the key reasons I wanted to join this company, because of how well it is positioned for the next decade,” says Sittema, who spent nearly three decades with Bank of America. “In this environment, if you have the resources to capitalize on the market opportunities, in terms of both talent and money, that is a great combination going into the next cycle.”

Sittema will work in tandem with Tim Seneff, president of CNL Financial who now serves as CEO of its capital markets group. They will collaborate on transactions and divide labor between the capital and acquisition sides.

“Having Tom come in and really focus on the acquisition side is very beneficial to us,” the younger Seneff says. “That enables me to spend 100% of my time focused on the capital markets side to provide the right dollars for the right deals.”

Sittema joined the real estate investment banking division of Banc of America Securities upon its formation in 1994 and assisted in establishing and building the company’s securitization/permanent loan programs. He is credited with more than $20 billion in M&A transactions, $5 billion in equity offerings and at least $35 billion in debt transactions including high-yield offerings, CMBS conduit originations and loan syndications.

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