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CRE Organization Reinvents Itself to Remain “The Disrupter, Not the Disrupted”

Business Services & Best Practices

A longstanding CRE organization is getting increased attention recently as it sets an example for modernizing its strategic vision and elevating its brand presence in the industry.  

Republished with permission from

The Empire State Building was still a recent addition to the New York City skyline, warehouses had not taken on the sophistication they would later assume, and the U.S. hadn’t entered World War II yet when the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors (SIOR) was launched in 1941. For over eight decades the organization has been providing leadership in the industrial and office sectors, yet it hasn’t maintained its stature as the leading global CRE member association by simply resting on its laurels.  

There is a very public and exciting new buzz that is surrounding SIOR right now. The organization was recently named a Top CRE Real Estate Brand in the annual Lipsey Top 25 Commercial Real Estate Brand Survey. Rumor also has it SIOR has been breaking several other records as well. Connect CRE spoke with CEO Robert Thornburgh, SIOR, for insight into what’s driving this and the process behind its reinvention. Here is what he told us.

Q: SIOR’s reinvention has been in the works for a couple of years. What is the overall focus of the reinvention, and how does this impact the organization’s membership? 

A: While we are very proud of our rich history, given the pace of change occurring in today’s business environment, we recognized the need to raise our relevance in the marketplace. Thankfully, we started futureproofing SIOR early: an effort that was initiated in late 2019 but understandably slowed due to the pandemic. It started with SIOR hiring an entirely new executive leadership. A year ago, that executive team, along with 25 dedicated SIOR members, our board of directors, and invited guests, came together to build a new five-year vision that ensures SIOR is the disruptor, not the disrupted, and that we continue to reflect the true standard for excellence in industrial and office real estate. 

Q: What were some of the early challenges you encountered? 

Self-reflecting is not a straightforward process for most. However, if you are an optimist, challenges can become opportunities. To ensure the right approach and level of evaluation occurred, we adopted a policy that there would be no bad ideas, and everything was open for discussion. A difficult effort to navigate but a necessary one if you really desire to influence meaningful change.  

Q: In any reinvention, there will be fundamental principles that continue from prior to the reinvention. For SIOR, what are those principles?  

A: Reinvention requires a respectful attitude towards our 82-year history, but also a real awareness that old ways don’t necessarily open new doors. Naturally, the key principles that remain the foundation of SIOR will remain firmly in place—that is the character, integrity, and expertise of those extraordinarily talented brokers who hold the designation. This will not waver.  

Q: At what stage is the reinvention?  

A: We are 18 months into building the SIOR of tomorrow. It is bold. It has a fresh look, a new energy, and a renewed focus that impacts everything we do.  

SIOR is embracing what it means to be a modern broker in this ever-changing climate. We are exploring new opportunities in global markets, revamping our operations, and enhancing our entire membership process. We are leveraging the latest technology. We are investing in our industry through leading education, the right support tools, and mentorship. We are becoming more diverse in our look, feel, and thinking through partnerships with organizations like CREW and REEC. Most importantly, we will once again raise the bar for what excellence looks like.  

Q: Any early wins or highlights you can share with us? 

Absolutely. Last year we saw the largest number of new members in our history. That doesn’t happen by chance. Support from our industry partners and sponsors has also changed dramatically, increasing by 45%, with a number of significant additional opportunities around the corner. 

Some other key metrics—an 11% growth in our international members and a 17% increase in female members since 2021. We welcomed the highest number of member associates, our program intended for those early in their careers. We also have seven female Board of Directors, the most ever, with our youngest female VP recently elected to take office this fall.  

If all that isn’t enough, our member retention rate is the highest it has ever been, at 97%. The best part—we are only just getting started.  

Q: How is SIOR communicating this transformation to members and the industry? 

A: With interests in over 45 countries, our growth demands a much broader and bolder approach to communication and that is happening in exciting ways: driving added resources to our members; developing deeper relationships with our industry partners; and delivering impactful global conferences that break the mold. It’s in the actions we implement. It’s also about making good on the promises we have made and the vision we have put into place. Thankfully, that is happening in a big way.  

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