MGAC Impacts: Abe Garcia on the Los Angeles Market, Realizing his Dream, and Juggling Parenthood
The Impact Blog is a spotlight series that highlights and celebrates the diverse employees that make MGAC tick. Beyond their day-to-day schedules, we want to know how they have a greater impact on their colleagues, their company, and the communities in which they live and work. We want to know what makes them get out of bed in the morning, what led them to their current role, and what they hope their lasting impact will be.
Today, we get to know Abraham (Abe) Garcia, Senior Project Manager at MGAC.
MGAC: Hi Abe, welcome to the blog! Tell us what you do at MGAC.
Abe Garcia (AG): I’m a Senior Project Manager, which means managing a project from inception to completion and close-out activity. Project Management includes hiring all the right consultants, vendors, and contractors along the way. It’s being the eyes and ears of the client throughout the life of the project. All clients are different—some are more involved than others—so gauging that and executing their needs accordingly is a big piece of the job.
MGAC: So truly acting as an extension of the client?
AG: Exactly. The thought is to be a seamless part of their team, even if it’s on a temporary basis. You’re helping them get through the different stages of the project, which, for the most part, they aren’t experts on. That’s why they hire MGAC.
MGAC: And how long have you been on board at MGAC?
AG: I started in December 2019. But it feels like I’ve been here a lifetime—in a good way! It’s been great being a part of the firm and I’m looking forward to years and years of working here in the LA office.
MGAC: That’s great to hear! Has Los Angeles always been home?
AG: I’ve been in LA most of my life. I was born in Zapopan, Mexico, but pretty much raised in LA. I’ve moved around a bit—I was in the Bay Area for a job for about two years—but came back here as soon as I could. This is home.
MGAC: What’s the construction landscape like in LA right now? Any major trends?
AG: There’s a continuous growth of population in Los Angeles, so there’s a lot of residential, multi-family development right now. Tech has also been big over the last few years. Tech companies are migrating from the Bay Area down to LA because of the cost-of-living difference. Some are even headquartering in LA. Downtown development was quickly growing over the last few years, but that seems to have slowed down a bit. That pace of development really did a lot to bring-up Downtown LA. When I was younger, you wouldn’t really go there for good restaurants or to go out for the night. But that quickly changed with all the recent development.
MGAC: Interesting! So, what led you to MGAC?
AG: I was working as a Senior Project Manager in the LA area, and I liked the fact that MGAC has a lot of good functions like Cost Management, FF&E Procurement, and Relocation Management. I liked that we have that all in-house. We can either offer those services individually or as a whole, depending on what the client needs.
MGAC: Bet that makes your job as a project manager a little easier!
AG: It does, especially on the cost side. Clients and others are always asking “If I wanted to do X, what would that cost me?” Or, “If I wanted to delete this, or add that, about how much would that cost?” Having done this for a number of years, I might already have that information for a lot of those questions. But when I don’t, or when my information is outdated, that’s where our cost team comes in. MGAC’s relocation management service is another I look to often. When we have a client who wants to bring on a move consultant, or is just looking to understand the process, it’s easy for us to tap the knowledge of our team members.
MGAC: What a great resource to have at your fingertips.
AG: Definitely. Just knowing that expertise exists in-house is great for our clients. It makes the job easier for us and for the client as they can look to one partner for both of those tasks, in addition to project management. This also helps give us an edge in landing new opportunities. That’s actually how MGAC landed the client I’m working with now, a media company. The cost estimating team did a couple of estimates for them, and the client knew MGAC also specialized in project management and asked to start a conversation.
MGAC: Nice! Tell us more about the work you’re doing.
AG: The media company has grown out of their current studios and needs a bigger space with larger studios and more versatility. They need flexibility built-in, with space for multiple shows within the same studio. They’re building, from a technical perspective, a state-of-the-art broadcast system that’s really unique. That component, I would say, is different from a typical project that I manage. For the most part, when you’re working on corporate interiors, you’re building conference rooms, a laboratory, and file and document rooms. Every client is different. But with this one, we’re not only building their offices and conference rooms, but also the studio portion with all the technical infrastructure that makes those studios work. It’s been a great challenge. Part of the project is my “regular project” that I manage. And then, there is this other portion that’s not entirely new—I’ve managed studio build-outs in the past—but the technology is on the newer side. It’s been great learning from other team members who understand all that and know 100 percent what the goal is, and what we’re striving for.
MGAC: Sounds like a great challenge!
AG: Absolutely. The project has been very rewarding in that sense. It’s been great working with the whole team as we come together and try to manage everything, so it comes together under common goals and a common schedule. That’s been a challenge, merging all of these elements and activities into a common schedule. That’s been my task. And, it’s actively changing. With construction, when you’re managing a schedule, it’s a week-by-week, if not a day-by-day, process. And on top of that, there are four different phases in terms of delivering the project. But seeing all of the team members coming together—MGAC, the architect, the contractor, and great representation on the client’s side—to work under one umbrella has been really rewarding.
MGAC: So, we’re guessing you probably didn’t always plan to be a project manager when you were a kid.
AG: Not exactly!
MGAC: What did you want to be when you grew up?
AG: It probably changed a million times! I loved sports growing up. I started with soccer, being born in Mexico. Then I took a liking to American football when I came to the U.S. I had dreams of making it big! But once those dreams started to come crashing down and I realized that I certainly didn’t have the size or speed to do anything professionally, I thought about doing something with law or government. That was my strong suit coming out of high school. Government, history, that sort of thing. But that changed when I was in college, and I ultimately got my degree in civil engineering. That led me to the project management world. So, it changed from being a professional athlete, to being a lawyer, to what I do now. And I feel so lucky and thankful to have stumbled upon this work.
MGAC: So even though you wouldn’t have expected you’d be doing this, what would that kid think about your current job today?
AG: I think about that often. I used to want to play sports professionally for many reasons, but that didn’t pan out. But, here I am working with a media company, helping them build their new studios. That’s very rewarding.
MGAC: Earlier, you mentioned the challenges you’ve faced working on that project. What would you say are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned during your time with MGAC?
AG: Managing your time even more effectively than before. And I thought I was pretty efficient coming into this assignment! But the project demands that you’re that much more efficient. There’s so much going on at any given time, if you don’t manage your time accordingly and properly, you’re going to feel overwhelmed, especially in the beginning. Because there’s so much to do. It continues to be a challenge, but we created some organization around that when we were first brought on to manage everything more effectively. We set up calls and meetings with different team members, created priority lists, and continue to challenge the team to prioritize items. That’s the only way we can get through a project at this size and scale.
MGAC: And what about the company has made an impact on you?
AG: It’s been the people. From when I first joined in December 2019 and almost immediately going to the holiday party. I had a little anxiety to see what the folks were all about. Are they going to welcome me in? Are they even going to talk to me? Whenever you join anything new, there are those insecurities. But immediately, I walked into the company meeting before the party and a number of different folks already knew my name and who I was. That was great. And hearing Mark Anderson during that meeting; hearing his perspective and introduction to the meeting, to this day has had a lasting impact. Because I believe it starts from the top. The way a company is run, the integrity of the company, what the company is about, always starts at the very top. And then there was the party part. We’re all talking, and there was some dancing going on. And it was as if I’d known these people for years and years.
MGAC: That’s great. So far, what have you found most rewarding about your job?
AG: I’ve been raised to give back. Always asking, “What can I do to help and make an impact for others?” Going back to when I was thinking about being a lawyer, maybe getting into politics, it was me wanting to make an impact on people in a positive way. That’s one aspect about MGAC that has been the most rewarding. MGAC cares about giving back to the communities that we’re located in. This pandemic has brought out the best in people—the worst in some. But it’s definitely brought out the best in MGAC. This moment gives even more perspective to the lasting impact of our work in communities.
MGAC: And how do you hope your work will impact your community at large?
AG: I’m really excited about the ways we’re making this happen through the project I’m currently working on. Sometimes that is big-picture, and sometimes it’s about the little things. For instance, thanks to our client, we work with local restaurants that are struggling during this pandemic to bring breakfast or lunch to the crew. That also helps the morale of the workers on the site, who themselves are working through this crisis.
MGAC: Wow, what a gesture!
AG: It really is. And more broadly, I’m excited about being a part of what I think is the start of something great for the local community, and, in broader terms, for LA. I think people will see our project as one of the outstanding developments in the area. Even being a small portion of that is great. I hope to continue that momentum moving forward. When we help a company establish their office or headquarters in greater LA, when we help them grow, it means they can hire more people—ultimately creating more employment opportunities for the area.
MGAC: So true. Needless to say, all of that is keeping you pretty busy these days. What gives you energy?
AG: Definitely my family. We have three girls, Reese, Amelia, and Aleia. We also have two puppies. It’s a full house. There’s a lot of energy. I have to mute myself quite a bit in meetings these days! But they all give me energy and it’s great to see my kids in such a fun stage of their lives
MGAC: What is your secret to winding down at the end of a long day?
AG: Once the computer gets shut down, spending time with the family is my favorite way to wind down. Play with the girls, play with the puppies. Try to forget a little bit about work and switch over to home life. It’s all about balance. There are days where there is a lot going on with the project, and I have to make it a point to step away from the computer and be with my family at the end of the day. Even before the pandemic, that was my favorite way to wind down.
MGAC: What about your secret to starting the morning off on the right foot?
AG: What helps me start the day is what I do at the end of the previous day. I have a notebook and I write down everything that is essential to helping me get through the next day. Looking at those notes, coffee in hand, and getting through the first e-mails that come through, that’s what helps get the wheels in motion for me.
MGAC: Name a book that has made a significant impact on your life.
AG: I’d have to say Things Fall Apart. I read it in college, and then again, a few years after graduating. What stayed with me from the book is how people deal with change, especially when trying to keep traditions intact. It’s a tug-of-war that many works of art have tried to portray in different ways and this book does a great job taking the reader through that struggle, the consequences, and the outcomes (which, unfortunately, are not always positive).
MGAC: How about a favorite quote that inspires you?
AG: It comes from Benito Juárez, the first indigenous president of Mexico: “Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.” Roughly translated to English, it’s “Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”
MGAC: That’s a great one. Okay, now it’s time for some rapid-fire questions. We’ll ask a question, and you tell us the first answer that comes to mind. Sound good?
MGAC: Describe your job in 5 words or less.
AG: Helping clients deliver great projects.
MGAC: What can’t you leave home without?
AG: Cell phone. And not just for work purposes; I think for a lot of us, so much of our lives are on it. It’s how we stay connected to others. I think I could even leave my wallet at home and not necessarily miss it!
MGAC: What’s the weirdest thing we might find in your desk or work bag?
AG: On my desk, I have this miniature replica of an indigenous mask from Mexico. I can’t even remember where I bought it, but I think of it as my lucky charm. I had it on my desk before the pandemic, and it’s one of the only things I brought when we started working from home.
MGAC: What do you miss most from work before the pandemic?
AG: If I’m in the office, saying goodbye and chatting with those folks who are still around. You’ll have a conversation that gets really interesting and ends up pushing your leave time by 30 minutes. I love those impromptu chats. That’s when you really get to know people.
MGAC: What’s something your colleagues don’t know about you?
AG: I don’t think that many people know I play drums. I’ve been drumming away for most of my life. It’s a hobby that helps me relax and get energy out.
MGAC: What’s your go-to workday lunch?
AG: I practice intermittent fasting, so I don’t eat anything until 11 or 12. That means it’s breakfast for lunch. I alternate between cereal and eggs in some form—it might be in a sandwich, with bacon, or in a burrito.
MGAC: What’s the most used app on your phone?
AG: It’s between Messages, which I use for people with iPhones, and WhatsApp. That’s how I communicate with my extended family, who mostly have Androids.
MGAC: What’s your biggest work goal for 2021?
AG: This project. To deliver it around mid-year—that’s when the biggest portion is due. It’s the most complex project I’ve worked on. So, to deliver it on time and within budget, even after all the COVID-19 issues that we’ve had to deal with on-site, is going to be very rewarding.
MGAC: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
AG: I love what I do, so I want to continue this path I’m on. I hope the projects continue to be challenging and complex—and rewarding, as a result. By five years, that’s the perfect time frame for moving up the next steps of this career path: maybe a Vice President position at MGAC!