MGAC Impacts: Brandey McDonald on Being a Minority Woman in Construction, Maintaining Confidence, and How the Wu-Tang Clan Brought Her to MGAC
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 Brandey McDonald, Project Manager at MGAC.
MGAC: Welcome to the Impact blog! Let’s start with describing your role at MGAC.
Brandey McDonald: I am a Project Manager, who works in the public sector with the DC Department of General Services (DGS), one of our newer clients with MGAC. I have been working with DGS now for over two and a half years.
MGAC: What led you to this role, and to MGAC?
BM: I’m going be really honest. While working at DGS with a competitor of MGAC’s, a colleague from the MGAC team, said to me one day, “Brandey, I think you would be a good fit at MGAC. If you ever feel the need to move, you should really consider it.” And, I simply said, “Oh! Okay. Thanks. That’s nice.” A Vice President at MGAC stepped in and really turned it up a bit. He reached out to me and said, “We’d really like to have you on the team. We’ve heard so many good things about you. And, we really think you would fit the culture. What could we possibly do to get you over here?”
MGAC: Oh wow. So, you were being recruited!
BM: Yes! That went on for several months. But, what really solidified the deal for me, was one day at a DGS happy hour that same Vice President and I had the chance to talk personally. He mentioned to me that he had just attended a concert at the Anthem, a popular music venue in DC. At that point, I thought to myself, “Well, the only concert I know of that happened there recently was Wu-Tang Clan. And, I know he didn’t go to see Wu-Tang Clan.” But, it turns out that it was the case! And, he was a huge hip-hop fan like me.
MGAC: So, in the end, that’s what sealed the deal!
BM: That’s exactly what sealed the deal for me! We started talking about hip-hop and how he grew up in Brooklyn. We realized that we had so many things in common and just really hit it off. So, that’s what truly solidified the deal for me with MGAC. And, I’ve been so happy ever since.
MGAC: I love that story. So, it sounds like it’s really the people that drew you to MGAC? Of course, the work is exciting, but you ultimately made your decision because of the people.
BM: Yes, that’s correct. The work wasn’t that important. It was the people! My first day at MGAC was the beginning of the annual meeting in December. After meeting the rest of the team, I went home and thought, “I have found the company that I want to retire with.” The corporate culture exhibited during the annual meeting was so wonderful. And, I was very impressed with everyone in the room. Every single one of them.
MGAC: That’s great. What kind of projects are taking up most of your time right now?
BM: I’m currently working on Eliot-Hine Middle School, which is actually taking up every ounce of my time at DGS. It’s a 143,000 SF 4-phase delivery school modernization and renovation project in the District of Columbia. It’s expected to house 400 students. Phase 1, which is the main portion of the building, is delivering on August 22nd.
MGAC: What kind of impact do you think this kind of work has on your community? Working on a middle school, it may seem obvious, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on that.
BM: Overall, the thing about working in the public sector is it simply is rewarding. But, schools, in particular, are very rewarding! And, Eliot-Hine was a school that needed a lot of love. They only had one window, which they called “the weather window,” because that was the only way the staff and students could check the weather once they were inside. And, as we work towards completion, one can walk throughout the corridors and see so much light coming in. That is inspiring knowing that more light will motivate the children of Eliot-Hine. The students will not only have a brand-new school, but the staff will have a brand-new space to teach in. It’s a new space that will create more pride for both the children and staff. So, we, the DGS team, and the community, are really excited about it.
MGAC: That’s amazing. What did you want to do when you were growing up? Is this how you wanted to spend your life, or has this career track been a surprise?
BM: Well, I originally thought that I wanted to be an architect. I have always been a lover of art. In high school, I was a very good art student. When I started my undergraduate studies, I started out majoring in architectural engineering. But, I eventually changed my major because I truly was not a fan of wearing construction boots. Go figure! So, I changed my major to social sciences to attend law school and become a municipal judge someday. I watched a lot of LA Law as a child. After graduation, an employer had me take a career assessment test where the results indicated I should really rethink that law school thing and focus on a career in finance.
MGAC: Wow, all over the place.
BM: Right! Like so many when graduating from college! So, I initially started my career in finance as a banker. Then, I moved to institutional finance in municipal investment banking being a part of a team that financed municipal projects like I manage today. I obtained my Master’s in Finance and Real Estate while moving up in my career and became a commercial real estate lender until the market downfall in the industry. I transitioned to the construction industry in 2009 when I sparked the interest of an executive from Clark Construction who had an interest in helping minority women with strong business acumen become entrepreneurs in the construction industry. I founded and ran my own elevator contracting firm from 2009 to 2016, specializing in public projects. I left the elevator industry when I discovered my previous employer was managing a number of new elevator installation projects in schools for the DC Department of General Services. It was the perfect match!
MGAC: What a journey!
BM: It has definitely been a journey.
MGAC: What would be your favorite on-the-job memory or story?
BM: There are so very many. One that really sticks out, is the day that I got the call to take the Eliot-Hine project. I had always been one who was very content managing small capital projects. But, one morning, these e-mails pertaining to Eliot-Hine just showed up my inbox. They were e-mails from the previous project manager’s inbox. I kept thinking, “What is going on? And, why am I getting all her e-mails?’ My Vice President called me and greeted me with, ‘Heyyyy.’ And, I mimicked him with a, “Uh, nooooo.” We shared a laugh because we all knew Eliot-Hine was going to be one of the most difficult projects in the DGS portfolio.
MGAC: What would you say the most challenging aspect of your job has been? Either this project specifically, or just your job in general?
BM: Maintaining rock-solid relationships and keeping everyone on the project at bay. As the owner’s representative, it is not only my job to represent the owner, but it is truly my job to lead the entire team, making sure this project is delivered on time and on budget. So, I would have to say that one of the most challenging things about this job is making sure I wake up every day and come in to work with a smile on my face, while managing all the different personalities on my team. I’ll also add that being a woman in this industry is challenging when there are a lot of men who approach things in a more aggressive fashion. So, the challenge is making sure everyone is working in tandem so we can continue to deliver the best possible project.
MGAC: Have you learned anything new while working on this project?
BM: Overall, I have learned what it takes to manage a project of this caliber. While I, again, have managed small capital projects in the past, the amount of knowledge one learns on small capital projects does not compare to the wealth of knowledge one learns on a $100M project.
MGAC: What do you find to be the most rewarding part of your job?
BM: The most rewarding part of my job is when the project is complete, and the client is happy. In the past, when I have been a part of projects where a school has received a new elevator, there were handicapped children who were so happy to see someone thought enough of them. That and the smile on the administrative and teaching staff’s face is always so rewarding. I cannot wait to deliver this project because I can see the excitement in the faces of the administrative staff when we walk the site together. They also tell me how thankful and appreciative they are of the work I do. Now, that is rewarding!
MGAC: What gives you energy? What’s your reason for getting up in the morning?
BM: What motivates me more than anything is making an impact on others. Again, going back to being a woman in this business where you just do not see a lot of women who look like me is something that motivates me every day. I say to myself every day ‘Go get it, girl.’ So, I take the influence and the impact that I can have on others who want to follow in my footsteps very seriously. I work to show them that they can get here someday, as well.
MGAC: As a minority woman, I imagine you’ve had to break down a lot of barriers to get to where you are today. What kind of advice would you have for someone who may want to follow in your footsteps, but doesn’t know how to get there? Or even where to start?
BM: I would say: keep your head on straight, don’t become too emotional. As a female, in general, remember that this is a male-dominated business. And, while it is okay to show some emotion, because you are a female, just make sure that you do not show too much emotion. Think things through from a strategic perspective, a logical perspective, and never allow your emotions to drive your decisions. I would also say to always maintain your confidence. In this business, a woman cannot afford to lack confidence. When you are leading this many people, whether you are walking on site or leading a meeting, make sure you hold your head high.
MGAC: That’s wonderful. What about your secret to winding down at the end of a long day?
BM: I’m a lover of interior design. So, you will find me in my off time winding down at night maybe flipping through interior design magazines or even during the COVID-19 pandemic reading interesting articles online. Those are the things that relax me. Anything that sparks creativity, that’s definitely what relaxes me.
MGAC: What do you want your lasting impact to be?
BM: Besides the fact that I want all who I mentor and inspire to pay all of their experiences and knowledge forward to others, I would say that I want to be remembered as the one who not only gets the job done, but gets the job done well. I don’t ever want to be considered average. I want to be the person whom a client describes as ‘She’s good at what she does! And, we appreciate her, respect her, and love how knowledgeable and professional she is.’ That’s the impact I want to have.
MGAC: That’s great. Are you ready for some rapid-fire questions?
MGAC: Describe your job in five words or less.
BM: Challenging, rewarding, difficult, different and… I want to say fun. But yeah, it’s fun, just not all the time. Ha! I’ll say interesting instead.
MGAC: What’s the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning?
BM: The first thing I do every day is check my e-mail.
MGAC: What about the last?
BM: The last thing that I do is check my task list for the day and make sure everything that was slated for the day is completed, or that I followed-up if it’s not complete.
MGAC: What’s your go-to lunch order?
BM: If I’m in the office, it’s SweetGreen. Our team loves SweetGreen. I usually order a Kale Caesar Salad.
MGAC: Where do you see yourself in five years?
BM: In five years, I see myself working at the c-suite level as an executive.
MGAC: Love that. What’s something about yourself that your co-workers may be surprised to learn?
BM: Hmm, probably that I absolutely love to draw. I don’t get to do it as much. But, it’s a passion.
MGAC: And what’s the most interesting thing we may find in your desk or work bag?
BM: Oh, wow! I don’t know! Nothing on my desk, I’m borderline OCD so you definitely would not find anything on my desk besides my computer. Let me look in my bag, hang on. This is going to sound so strange, but I think my fellow female colleagues would appreciate this. I have toe guards in my bag because my construction boots, you know the boots I used to hate, sometimes kill my toes! I have to make sure I put them on before I put on my steel toe boots.