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MGAC Impacts: Fatima Bokoum on Jet Setting, the Magic of Hotels, and Trading a Crown for a Hardhat


Fatima in Turks and Caicos.

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 Fatima Bokoum, Assistant Project Manager at MGAC.

MGAC: Hello and welcome to the Impact Blog, Fatima!

Fatima Bokoum (FB): Hi, it’s great to be here!

MGAC: What is your role here at MGAC?

FB: I’m an Assistant Project Manager in our DC office. I’m on the hospitality team, so I work on hotels. Currently, it’s lots of renovations.

MGAC: When did you join MGAC, and what led you to this role?

FB: I joined a little over a year ago. I began my career working in project accounting for a company that owned hotels. It was in that role that I began to notice the project managers were doing work that I was really interested in. Where I was more focused on the financials side and budget tracking, they were taking the full scope of work and running with it—visiting sites, bringing really cool projects to life. I wanted to be more involved with the process in that way and moved into the project management sphere at a different firm. Then, when someone from MGAC’s HR team reached out to me about a hospitality-specific assistant project manager role, I realized this was my chance to make that leap back to hospitality, a sector I’ve always been super passionate about.

MGAC: What do you enjoy most about the hospitality industry?

FB: Staying at a hotel is a special experience. Those of us who work in hospitality have that one chance to make a good first impression—and in our world, first impressions are everything. I love the attention to detail that comes from that perspective, and that we get to give people a home away from home, create an enjoyable experience, and make them want to come back again and again. And with hospitality projects, you often see dramatic transformations. From an empty space to a grand restaurant. From old and dated to brand new—all in a matter of months. We work fast in that way, which is really rewarding and means I can have multiple projects under my belt quickly and grow in my project management skills.

MGAC: That’s definitely a unique perk!

FB: It is! And due to the way hotels operate, with people coming and going every day, we know we’re creating a space that will welcome many people over time. That volume and constant activity also means we get feedback from guests, managers, housekeeping—everyone who stays in and operates the hotel—right away.

MGAC: You mentioned you’ve been able to get multiple projects under your belt here at MGAC. What are you working on now?

FB: I have a project that I’m leading as the Project Manager in Alexandria. It’s a restaurant renovation of a Westin. I’m also helping out with a Sandals Resort Hotel in Jamaica, an additional project in Miami, and a couple of local DC projects as well.

MGAC: An interesting mix! Is it challenging juggling projects in different locations at one time?

FB: Luckily all these projects are on Eastern Standard Time. That’s a big help, but some team members are in different areas, say on the West Coast. So, I have to juggle that time constraint to ensure meetings are reasonable for everyone. And then, with the nature of our work, team members are sometimes on-site, sometimes in the office, so we’re always coordinating around that. But we’re pretty used to it and make it work!

MGAC: It sounds like the projects themselves have some variety too? 

FB: Definitely. Starting with location: the environment you’re working in definitely has bearing on a project. The lens you look at the project through and guest experience you want to achieve are completely different, say, at an international resort destination than a central DC hotel project. And, even if you are working in similar locations, there’s still so much variety among hospitality projects. I like to say there’s a project within the project. In one hotel, you can be working on a rooftop lounge. Then, you could be working on the lobby. Then, the guest rooms. Sometimes we are working on building maintenance, structural and engineering issues, and other times, we are talking about things like signage, wallpaper, and furniture.

MGAC: Leading on one project and assisting on others must mean you wear different hats in that sense too?

FB: Absolutely. On any given day, I am working on the project I manage on my own and tapping into projects I am assisting on. So, I’m always both leading and learning on the job. One of the best things about being an Assistant Project Manager is that I get to work with many different Project Managers. I can watch the way they approach the work, and apply that to my own projects.

MGAC: With no two days being the same, what might your perfect workday look like?

FB: One where I feel super productive! I would wake up at 4 in the morning, get on a flight, and get to my project. While there, I would meet with the contractor, meet with the GM, meet with the designer, and then get back on a flight and be back home in time for dinner.

MGAC: Do you travel a lot for your projects?

FB: It depends, but sometimes quite a lot! For example, I had a project finish in Indianapolis at the end of the summer, and I was going to Indianapolis every other week for that one. That was fun. Traveling to Miami for my current project is fun. I’m looking forward to visiting the Jamaica project in the future. Depending on the project, travel can be biweekly, weekly, or even every day!

MGAC: Sounds like you keep pretty busy! Where do you find the energy to keep that up?

FB: I think it’s just because I find what I’m doing exciting. I’m not a coffee girl. I just really enjoy what I do! It’s not that hard for me to find energy in my work. I get to meet different people, visit new places, and see projects come to life. And I’m not stuck behind a desk. All of that gives me energy.

MGAC: It seems like you’ve landed in a career that is truly a great fit for you. What do you think younger you would think about your job today?

FB: I think kid me would be excited because I’ve always wanted to work in a job that allows me to visualize something and see it come to fruition, from beginning to end. Being a key part of that process, as opposed to working in the background, has always interested me. And I spent most of my childhood in MD, a hop and a skip away from DC, so I often get to see that progress right where kid me grew up. That’s always fun.

MGAC: How cool! Conversely, do you have a favorite day to wind down at the end of the day?

FB: I absolutely love to read. I love imagining the characters and settings and fully immersing myself in a story. Then, I like to listen to podcasts as well.

MGAC: Any recommendations you’d like to share?

FB: For people interested in the hospitality space, I’d recommend Unreasonable Hospitality by Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park, which I just finished. It talks about the restaurant space and overall hospitality management and was a really good read. For podcasts, I like to listen to Next Gen in Lodging, which is basically for young people in the travel, tourism, and hospitality space, and it is focused on how this next generation will move the industry forward.

MGAC: Great picks! On having influence, with a year-plus at MGAC under your belt, what impact are you hoping to have on the firm over time?

FB: I think the most important thing to me as a minority, as a woman, as a Black woman, is to show other people that they can be in positions of management and power. You can be in a place to really influence things. As a Project Manager, I work with different parties and meet different people, and that visibility is important. Sometimes, I’ll be on-site and see Black women in their construction boots and hard hats, and that’s exciting. Seeing us all together doing something interesting in a space that wasn’t necessarily made for us is really cool. I know for younger people, seeing leaders who you can see yourself in and look up to is so important. That signals that you can do it, too, and that there’s a place for you on those teams and in this industry.

MGAC: That’s so important. Now, are you ready for some rapid-fire questions?

FB: I think so!

MGAC: You’re starting the workday. What’s the first thing you do?

FB: Check my phone to see if I have any new emails.

MGAC: And the last thing? 

FB: Check my to-do list and re-organize it for the next day. I’m definitely a pen-and-paper to-do list girl!

MGAC: What’s the first thing on your list right now?

FB: Let’s see …. it looks like revamp the financial forecast.

MGAC: What’s the most interesting thing we might find on your desk or in your work bag?

FB: You’ll always find with me is sunscreen. I don’t go anywhere without it!

MGAC: What can you not get through the workday without?

FB: A warm cup of green tea.

MGAC: What phrase do you say most often at work?

FB: “Any words of wisdom?” That’s how I like to end my team meetings.

MGAC: What’s your go-to workday lunch?

FB: A kale caesar salad. Sometimes, I pick it up from Chopt; sometimes, I make it.

MGAC: What’s the most-used app on your phone? 

FB: What’s App. I am always talking to my family back home.

MGAC: Describe your job in five words or less.

FB: Help bring visions to life.

MGAC: What’s your biggest work goal right for the year ahead?

FB: Lead the management of a guest room renovation from start to finish.

MGAC: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

FB: I’ve got two. Number one: You don’t need to experience something to learn from it. And number two: Get paid to learn.

MGAC: What’s your favorite new industry trend?

FB: Technology. All the things that make our jobs easier and save time. It’s a big trend in both construction and hospitality right now.

MGAC: Alternatively, what’s an industry trend that you think will never change?

FB: With hospitality work, I think there will always be one big constant. Even with the rise of hotel alternatives like Airbnb, there’s a unique feeling you only get at a hotel. People want that full experience. You want people to take care of you. You want to be in a place that feels special. We’ll always be working to create that feeling.

MGAC: What would your dream project look like?

FB: A resort in my home country, Guinea. There would be all kinds of new dynamics to navigate, which would be fun. And I know it would make a huge impact in my country.

MGAC: What are you known for in the office?

FB: Being the person who brings people together. For projects of course, but also for fun things like happy hours.

MGAC: What’s something your colleagues don’t know about you?

FB: I grew up doing pageants. I was actually once crowned Miss Guinea North America.

MGAC: Where would we find you if you’re not at work?

FB: Traveling! I went to England, Spain, and Portugal in the summer and spent the December holidays in Ghana. Switzerland is next on my list!

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