Driven to Improve
Q&A with Robert Thornburgh, CCIM, CPM, SIOR
It’s difficult to downplay e-commerce’s impact on commercial real estate. But as the supply chain transforms in response, industry professionals need to know how to position themselves to succeed in the new marketplace.
Robert Thornburgh, CCIM, CPM, SIOR, has emerged as a leader in the office and industrial sectors, thanks to two decades of experience in California. As the immediate past president of the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors, he emphasizes the benefit of continual improvement, through education, networking, and volunteering.
CIRE: The industrial sector is undergoing a massive reformation, with the Amazon effect creating a demand for near-immediate delivery. Can you guess what further changes might be on the horizon — say, in the next 18 to 36 months?
Thornburgh: Everything is changing at a rapid pace. For the industrial sector, extraordinary demand continues to exceed supply. This is true for available land or well-located logistics space for lease. Record-breaking absorption, rent growth, and inadequate options are all leading today’s conversations. Primary markets with sophisticated supply chains and large populations continue to see the most logistics-related activity. There remains tremendous opportunity in last-mile delivery. Expect more surprises as our industry scrambles to keep pace with consumer demand. Low coverage sites in densely populated urban centers will capture the most attention. Land values will continue to increase, leading to additional multistory development. As we look ahead, while many debate a softening in the market, we can expect strong demand to continue for the foreseeable future. Further down the road, the corresponding rise in values, construction, and labor combined with talks of a recession — while not new topics — could develop into sizeable headwinds.
CIRE: Regarding infrastructure in the U.S., what considerations will the industry need to make if investments are not made in updating aging roads, rail, ports?
Thornburgh: While there are daunting challenges with soaring price tags associated with the solutions, addressing our aging infrastructure cannot be ignored. As we continue to see the modernization of today’s industrial buildings in order to keep pace with the velocity of goods movement, our roads, bridges, and related links to transportation must be addressed as well. Failure to act will only impede our nation’s ability to compete in the thriving global economy.
CIRE: You refer to yourself as an optimist. How has such an outlook helped you in your career? How does this affect your planning for a potential downturn in the market or economic instability?
Thornburgh: You must be an eternal optimist to be in this business. It rewards the bold, the self-starter. In preparing for a potential downturn, the very best in any industry understand what it takes to be successful and have a plan to make sure that success continues — in an upward or downward market. They have a different outlook, and it is apparent in everything they do. It is in their thoughts, style, and attitude toward life and business. Sales can be challenging, but the rewards are extraordinary. Disappointments are inevitable — how we respond to them is something entirely different.
CIRE: As past president of SIOR, a CCIM designee, and a certified property manager, you see value in being involved with the industry. What is one benefit from your involvement with industry associations like SIOR and CCIM Institute that might surprise others?
: When these leadership opportunities developed for me, I have always done my best to take advantage of them, whether in my direct business or through volunteerism. Each presented new interactions, obstacles to overcome, and corresponding strategic initiatives requiring implementation. These roles have introduced me to new people, helped me make connections, and expanded my way of thinking. Along the way, I have also learned the best path to developing as a leader is through maintaining a service-oriented mindset, helping others to advance and achieve their own goals. Organizations like SIOR and CCIM Institute provide unique environments to conduct business and share best practices.
CIRE: With two decades of experience on the West Coast, do you encounter challenges unique to the region?
: Nearly every major commercial real estate market across the United States tells a similar story — high demand, constrained supply, and heightened influence from technology. We are, by every definition, advisers, assisting our clients, helping them navigate nearly every aspect of the real estate brokerage process. Today’s real estate professionals must be equipped to respond to these demands.
CIRE: On a personal note, your biography mentions an undergrad education focused on psychology and biblical studies. What led you to real estate?
Thornburgh: Psychology always had a business focus for me — understanding successful people, environments, motivational factors, and so forth. Biblical studies were personal and tied directly to my faith. When you add my MBA in there, it all came together. Pursuing real estate was a passion that developed early and never left. I think most professionals would agree that advanced education is ongoing, especially in an industry that changes as fast as ours. Continual improvement is a necessity today. Without it, you will get passed by faster than most realize.