New SIOR CEO Robert Thornburgh Looks Ahead To Challenges And Opportunities
Robert Thornburgh is assuming his new role as CEO of the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors at a time when the office and industrial sectors across the country are on different paths.
Office space is grappling with coronavirus pandemic-fueled uncertainty about when people will return to their offices, while the industrial sector has garnered a tremendous amount of attention from investors and developers.
It's also a time when the organization itself is changing. Women made up just 3% of SIOR's membership 10 years ago and now it's roughly 7% women.
Two years ago SIOR opened a new category of membership — associate member — aimed at early career professionals. At the associate level of membership, the percentage of women is higher at just over 20%, Thornburgh said.
"It's indicative that we're doing something right," he said.
The dearth of women brokers across property types is a known issue in commercial real estate. Women accounted for 29% of commercial real estate brokers in the U.S. in 2020, according to a study by the Commercial Real Estate Women Network, and industrial is an area in which women are in especially short supply.
Statistics on the racial and ethnic makeup of the organization were not available, but Thornburgh, who previously served as SIOR’s global president and sat on its board of directors, said, “We’re very aware, and were four years ago, that we had a problem in terms of diversity and committed to changing it.”
Four years ago, SIOR and the Real Estate Executive Council, a real estate group of senior executives who are Black and people of color, began collaborating on a program that works to introduce students to commercial real estate as a possible career. This program, together with the new associate membership level, is seen as a way for a broader group of candidates to chart a path into SIOR's ranks.
Thornburgh said his role and focus is to position the organization to play an even larger and more substantial role in commercial real estate. Under Thornburgh’s guidance, SIOR’s leadership team is in the early stages of a multi-year strategic planning process. The plan will chart a course for the organization’s near-term future and address advanced education for members as well as the organization’s continued development of diversity and inclusion in SIOR member ranks and in CRE as a whole.
“This organization is closely keeping pace with the rate of change to ensure that we don’t lose sight of our relevance going forward,” Thornburgh said.
Looking at the coming year, he expects industrial real estate to continue on its upward trajectory.
“Every expert or industry leader is speaking from the same voice — that this momentum of industrial will only continue in the years ahead,” Thornburgh said. “There is so much demand that is pent up for efficient, well-located industrial space. There is nothing in the foreseeable future that is going to be an impediment or would slow it down.”
Thornburgh knows industrial well having come to SIOR from Kidder Mathews, where he was a shareholder and regional president of brokerage. Before Kidder Mathews, Thornburgh was CEO at Los Angeles-based Heger Industrial, which held a 60-year legacy in the LA market. Kidder Mathews and Heger Industrial merged in 2017. Bisnow reported at the time that Thornburgh and Kidder Mathews’s then-CEO Jeff Lyon met through mutual friends in SIOR.
Thornburgh is “optimistic and hopeful” that the office sector is going to find its balance toward the end of this year but cautions that the road to finding that balance might be bumpy.
“We’re going to be in a stop-and-start environment because of COVID,” he said.
Thornburgh sees incredible possibilities in the organization and in the rapidly changing field in which its members work.
“To reimagine what we can be and will be for our industry is exciting,” Thornburgh said. “Those challenges can be opportunities.”