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Navigating the CRE Landscape: One Organization is Transforming its Approach

Business Services & Best Practices Management & Ownership

Republished with permission from

Sweeping changes have spread across the globe in unprecedented waves over the last four years, and the ripples have affected all aspects of our world and business. Economies have been revamped, markets have been redefined, and entire industries have been rewritten. Those that didn’t adjust likely got left behind, while entities that anticipated and embraced change forged their path by adopting new approaches.

The Society of Industrial and Office Realtors® (SIOR) remains the world’s premier commercial real estate organization for industrial and office brokers, largely because it continues to think one step ahead in order to future-proof the industry from additional changes sure to come. The organization continues to blend a perfect combination of relevance, connection, information, education, and change. It is a recipe that’s created a surge in momentum, renewed energy, and high visibility for the organization as 2024 unfolds.

“Momentum is absolutely the word to describe the wave SIOR is riding today,” said SIOR CEO Robert Thornburgh, SIOR, CCIM, FRICS. “The last 18 months have been transformative in every way. The foundation that was laid was smart, and well vetted. Any execution of change at this magnitude carries a heavy amount of stress and emotion, or it wouldn’t truly be transformational. Through our perseverance and dedication to our forward-thinking vision, we’ve created the excitement, energy, and opportunity being realized today.”

Change began nearly three years ago when 30 leaders of the organization gathered for a think tank session in Miami to strategically and methodically examine where SIOR stood, where it wanted to be, and how it needed to adapt to the anticipated developments ahead for the commercial real estate industry. That resulted in the establishment of a strategic five-year plan that’s continued to fuel the seeds of SIOR’s growth.

Accomplishments were seen within the first several months of enacting the plan. The creation of a new energy and visibility required the organization to take a bold, initial step by examining the culture, reputation, and its efforts to retain existing members while attracting tomorrow’s CRE leaders. “That top-down process of improvement awakened the 80-year-old brand, refined SIOR’s mission, and produced an environment in which extraordinary outcomes are regularly being accomplished today,” said Thornburgh.

A Record-Setting Year

SIOR began with a refreshed brand that elevated all aspects of the organization, from visual assets to dynamic and exciting messaging and market saturation that strengthened SIOR’s brand presence in the industry. And the industry began to take notice, with SIOR earning the #18 spot in the renowned 2023 Lipsey Top 25 Commercial Real Estate Brands ranking, the first time ever making the list. (SIOR continues to influence the industry, earning the #17 spot on the same list for 2024.)

SIOR has executed at an even higher level, breaking several significant records. Perhaps none of those milestones was more important than a growing membership roster. The largest number of new members (323) in the history of SIOR, were added last year, a record set despite SIOR raising its qualifications, which made it more difficult to earn the elite designation.

There were other notable records exceeded. SIOR expanded to more than 1,000 SIOR office specialists in the world, making it the largest representation of this sector in its history. The organization also received record-breaking support from sponsors and exhibitors, representing a 45% increase in the last 18 months alone. The increased engagement and involvement with industry partners followed an effort to create a new vision and showcase SIORs relevance.

SIOR Global Industry Partner Prologis’ Don Meyer summed up SIOR’s position in the marketplace today saying, “There is a renewed energy and buzz surrounding SIOR Global right now — the entire market sees it.”

The extraordinary accomplishments of 2023 were the culmination of hard work in previous years to revamp processes and engage with SIOR members and CRE professionals to see how the organization could better serve the entire industry.

Transformational Growth

Parity and membership were key themes of SIOR’s revitalization. The organization has been transformed from its historically industrial roots to one in which a more strategic and relevant voice resonates with the commercial office sector as well.

“For the first time in SIOR’s history, we now have more than a thousand members in the office sector,” said Thornburgh. “It is imperative that we continue to equally represent the diverse needs of our clients in the commercial real estate industry. By cultivating expertise across both sectors, we can effectively address the evolving needs of the industry, particularly given the current focus on the office sector and its challenges.”

The growth in office was intentional, stemming from a strategic focus on existing demand and the provisions of a platform for connection, collaboration, and dealmaking. The same strategy applied to other segments of the market like women and young professionals, where SIOR is tailoring additional programs geared towards their needs like career-building endeavors.

SIOR built a strategic plan to make sure that more segments of the CRE industry would be appropriately served in ways that reflect their unique needs. The work is continuing to refine and perfect the value proposition of SIOR in ways that the organization has not explored in the past.

Peter Hanson, SIOR, longstanding member and SIOR Past-President, said he has never been prouder of the direction SIOR is headed. “As a 60-year member of SIOR, I believe that our organization’s future has never looked brighter.” That sentiment underscores how an organization can remain relevant across a wide spectrum of membership profiles by building out different content, information, and resources that appeal to all segments.

“We introduced a member associate program to allow a younger professional segment to gain access to career-building and mentoring opportunities SIOR offers,” noted Thornburgh. “This program ensures SIOR retains its voice and relevance with the next generation of leaders.”

While SIOR encourages more emerging leaders to explore the Member Associate program, Thornburgh also notes the organization made it harder than ever to become a SIOR designee. Through the direction of SIOR’s Board of Directors and various committees and task forces, SIOR raised the production requirements for membership and created a new admission voting model that places increased ownership in the hands of members.

Last year, SIOR also expanded its methods of recruitment. “For the first time, we created a formalized member referral program anchored in our recruitment campaign,” explained Thornburgh. The campaign not only contributed to record membership levels in 2023, but also helped to ensure new members embody SIOR’s highest standards of ethics, excellence, and achievement; because no one knows what it takes to be an SIOR better than its current members.”

Wider Reach, Diversity & Inclusion

The organization is also making significant strides in other important areas, as well. For instance, it achieved a 21% increase in female membership and experienced a 24% increase in new members under the age of 35. There were also new multi-year partnerships established with CREW and REEC to help increase its voice in diversity. These partnerships epitomize the culmination of a multi-year effort to drive increased value to the broader commercial real estate industry.

The various changes are being noticed throughout the industry and are leading to more fulfilling partnerships. SIOR Annual Industry Partner Wonderful Real Estate’s Erin Poulson Morris, Senior Director of Business Development, framed the value SIOR brings to the developer and property manager for office and industrial properties in California: “Our relationship with SIOR has proven to be one of the most valuable partnerships to our business,” she said. “The dedication and support we receive are unparalleled. Partnering with SIOR has allowed us to connect and transact with the top brokers and decision makers in the industry, making them the best choice for moving our business forward.”

Engaging Events Facilitate Connections

SIOR also continues to elevate the experiences and engagement at its events, achieving the second largest conference attendance in its history at its Chicago Fall 2023 gathering. Attendees reported a 100% increase in the satisfaction rating as well. It isn’t surprising that SIOR conferences are so well attended now given the fact that the entire conference experience was improved to deliver more value.

Scott Kelly, Senior Vice President of Bank of America, one of SIOR’s Global Industry Partners, summed up the value of SIOR for the financial institution. He said, “Partnering with SIOR for the last 15 years has allowed us to elevate our brand visibility and connect with a highly engaged and influential audience of CRE professionals. The networking opportunities provided by SIOR’s events and conferences have been instrumental in forging meaningful partnerships and expanding our business reach.”

The Road Ahead

There are exciting new plans for the coming year, too. Creating a higher level of energy and excitement required SIOR to “take a hard look in the mirror and make sure that we all worked to bring the group together as a relevant organization for today, but also one that is here for the next generation of leaders coming in,” said Thornburgh.

He also points out that SIOR has unfinished work ahead. One goal, as part of a multi-year plan, is to expand SIOR’s international footprint from 49 countries to fill gaps across the globe to meet the needs of clients in more countries. Another goal of the organization is to achieve an equal balance between office and industrial segments.

The early momentum that was generated has carried through to allow SIOR to introduce an array of changes in a short period of time. Thornburgh added, “Now comes the critical nature of that next, best iteration of the work. We must make sure that we don’t get distracted, that we stay focused on what’s in front of us and continue to execute the highest returns for our valued members and industry partners.” SIOR plans to remain vigilant about raising the bar in every endeavor. “That’s a tall order, but complacency is not a word we will accept in our culture,” concluded Thornburgh.

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