MGAC Impacts: Gary Mao on the Importance of Problem-Solving, Turning Ideas into Reality, and Meeting the Challenges that Each Day Brings
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 Gary Mao, Cost Consultant at MGAC.
MGAC: Welcome to the Blog, Gary! Tell us what you do at MGAC.
Gary Mao: I’m a Cost Consultant with the Cost Management / Project Controls team here at MGAC. I help advise our clients on how to manage their budget, usually throughout the development phases of a project. Sometimes, that will spill over to change orders and such throughout construction. To me, I see it as any sort of problem-solving for the client on the budget side. I’d say the job can be fun and challenging in its own ways.
MGAC: Which projects are taking up the most of your time right now?
GM: I have a couple on my plate right now. One is the Mirman School project, it’s a K-12 independent, co-educational school for gifted children in Los Angeles, and they’re adding a new Learning Center on their campus. I’m working with the architect, the school itself, and the contractor to essentially put together an estimate for the new learning center that’s within the school’s budget. Another is the interior fit-out of an entire floor within a UCLA medical office. Again, this project is a group effort that involves the architect, the owner, and the contractor. This one is requiring a bit more work because there have been quite a few changes throughout the process.
MGAC: And how did you find yourself here at MGAC?
GM: Before MGAC, I worked with a General Contractor in Orange County, but I wasn’t sure if it was the right fit. My good friend, Jayson Lacno-Musngi, and I went to college together, and he had been working at MGAC for a bit and told me about an open position on the Cost team. It had some overlap with my past working experience, so I applied, met with some members of the MGAC team, and it just worked out.
MGAC: That’s great. And how long have you been with MGAC?
GM: I’ve been with MGAC for 3 years now.
MGAC: What were you doing prior to that GC job? Was that your first job out of college?
GM: Yeah, that was my first job out of college. I was part of their landscape team and most of the projects we did were for local municipalities and the State of California.
MGAC: Did you always know you wanted to be a Cost Consultant? What did you want to be growing up?
GM: No, in college, I studied civil engineering. Growing up, I wanted to be a pilot, probably like a lot of kids do, but after going through high school, I realized how much I loved art history, mostly architecture, and that was one of my passions. But, as I was choosing my major for college, I decided to lean towards something a little more practical, which led me to civil engineering. Deep down, I’d say I still have a great passion for art history.
MGAC: What would your younger self think about your current job path?
GM: I’ll admit, I think my younger self would be a bit disappointed that I’m not a pilot! But, at the end of the day, I think I would’ve been a bit surprised at where I ended up, but also understanding. I think growing up, especially in high school, I had so many ideas of what I wanted to do. And as I got older, I just knew those ideas would keep evolving and I would always somehow make them work.
MGAC: Have you learned anything interesting on the job?
GM: One of the more important things I’ve learned is probably to continue being flexible, knowing that you have to be able to adjust to fit the client’s needs. Cost consulting was new to me before MGAC, especially in the preconstruction phases, so I had to learn from the get-go, learn to support my clients in any way possible, and at the same time, not lose sight of the bigger goal at the end of the day, which is to make sure that the projects have the most potential to be successful.
MGAC: What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of your job?
GM: When the project closes, I love knowing how many people worked together on it. At first, projects usually just start off as ideas, then through people being a part of the project and working together, it becomes this actual physical thing. Sometimes at meetings, it amazes me to see the amount of people sitting together, trying to accomplish a common goal. And the result of all that hard work, seeing it all come together, is really cool. It’s definitely a rewarding experience at the end of the day.
MGAC: That’s great. And how would you say your work makes an impact on your community?
GM: In a bigger picture, I’d say I contribute, on a small scale, in creating the future of our communities. From working on projects in academia, healthcare, or communal spaces, I like to believe these projects and future infrastructure will have a role in improving people’s lives. To me, at the end of the day, that includes students having newer and better facilities for their education or families and friends having a beautiful space to connect and perhaps learn something new. Also, I get the pleasure of working with some great minds on some unique projects and that’s definitely a bonus.
MGAC: Any favorite on-the-job stories or memories that illustrate what it is you love about MGAC?
GM: In the Los Angeles office, we have an open office design, and it can get kind of quiet sometimes when everyone is focusing on their projects. But I’d say my favorite moments are when someone randomly blurts out a question that ends up starting a whole discussion throughout the office, whether it’s job-related or just a random topic. It’s always great seeing people working together and enjoying each other’s company.
MGAC: What gives you energy when you wake up in the morning?
GM: I’d say meeting the challenges that each day brings, starting with feeding my two dogs, who wake up way before I do and will whine until I put food in their bowls.
MGAC: How about your secret to winding down at the end of a long day?
GM: Before the pandemic hit, I used to go rock climbing after work. I got into climbing back in college and have kept it up ever since. But now, with the gyms being shut down in Los Angeles, I just run as much as I can, wherever possible and also do some at-home yoga.
MGAC: Great! Now let’s move on to some rapid-fire questions. Describe your job in five words or less.
GM: Working with really smart people.
MGAC: What’s the first thing you do at work every day?
GM: The first thing I do is probably check my schedule or to-do list, then check my e-mail. One of those.
MGAC: What about the last thing?
GM: Last thing I do is make my schedule or to-do list for the next day. And probably check my email.
MGAC: You’re organized! What’s the strangest thing we might find in your desk or work bag?
GM: The strangest thing… Honestly, my work bag is pretty typical. I guess you might find some cough drops or candy.
MGAC: What can’t you leave your home without?
GM: Probably my headphones.
MGAC: Most people say their phone!
GM: I guess those go hand-in-hand. But headphones is definitely a must!
MGAC: What’s your go-to lunch order?
GM: I usually make my own lunch and bring it to work. Actually, you know what, I’m going to get called out on that. I work pretty close to the office, so I usually walk home and make my lunch there. I don’t actually bring it to work. But, foodwise it could be leftovers, or my go-to-whipped-together lunch would probably be brown rice with some meat or curry.
MGAC: That’s convenient!
GM: Yeah, it is. I guess I really don’t have an excuse of ever being late.
MGAC: What’s the most-used app on your phone?
GM: I would say Instagram, but I also think Google Maps. Everyone has to use maps, right?
MGAC: What’s a book that changed your life?
GM: East of Eden by John Steinbeck.
MGAC: How about a favorite quote?
GM: “Courage is found in unlikely places.” – JRR Tolkien
MGAC: What’s something your co-workers might not know about you?
GM: I’m sure some of them know, but I love rock climbing outdoors and indoors, and that’s been a passion of mine for a long time. I’ve also recently started getting into taking pictures of nature while on backpacking trips, that’s really my favorite thing. Last year, I went to a backpacking place called Havasupai, an Indian reservation down in Arizona, with my girlfriend for four days, and it was great. Rock climbing-wise, I go to Bishop, California once a year with my friends and go bouldering. Another random thing would probably be that I’ve played the cello since grade school.
MGAC: What do you want your lasting impact to be?
GM: I want to be known as a guy who can help solve problems. Growing up, my parents always instilled that in me. They always said: “Try to figure out how to solve problems the best you can, because that’s how you can make an impact in other people’s lives.”