MGAC Impacts: Matt Tran on Removing Risk, Achieving Balance, and Cleaning the Chrysler Building
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 Matt Tran, Senior Health & Safety Consultant at MGAC | RLF.
MGAC: Welcome, Matt! We’re excited to learn more about you and your work at MGAC | RLF.
Matt Tran (MT): Hello! It’s great to be here.
MGAC: What’s your title, and what does your role look like on any given day?
MT: My title is Senior Health and Safety Consultant. But in many ways, that only tells half the story. The bulk of my work is to fulfill a role we have on every project in the UK, the “principal designer” role. This involves managing the design team in the pre-construction phase of a project and coordinating with them to eliminate out all of the foreseeable risk in the design. We’re essentially making the completed building as safe and easy to maintain as possible. So a large part of what we do is design risk elimination work, which is effectively hazard management. Then, on the other side of my role, I advise the client in a safety capacity and physically go on to the construction sites. We carry out safety inspections, audit contractors’ paperwork, and provide reports to the client directly. The regulations we work to are known here as ‘CDM’ which stands for Construction Design Management. This gives you a broader insight into what the bulk of our work involves.
MGAC: Interesting! Were you doing similar work before you came here?
MT: I was! I was doing the same job for a smaller firm in London. I’d been there for five years, and I was at a point in my career where I was ready for growth—a larger firm with bigger projects and new challenges. I wanted to get into a place where I could work hard and move up the organizational structure. I was attracted to our firm because it had all these things, in addition to being multi-disciplinary and having a great culture.
MGAC: And when did you join the team?
MT: That’s a funny story. I joined on the 16th of March 2020. Of course, we all know what March 2020 means. I started on a Monday, and everything was pretty good. COVID was in the news, and it was past the point where everyone thought, “This thing is never going to come here.” They were starting to let people work from home, just in case. But by Tuesday—my second day on the job—everyone was called into the conference room and told we were all going to work from home until further notice. So I was sent home with a laptop, and all of my training was from home. I barely knew how to work the systems and hadn’t met half the people at the company yet!
MGAC: Wow, what a first week!
MT: It was an interesting time. Usually, when you join a new company, you get to settle in and have time to learn by observation. This was more like baptism by fire!
MGAC: Safe to say you needed to hit the ground running. It’s great you already had experience doing this work. Was this always a field you wanted to work in when you were younger?
MT: When I was a kid, my career ideas were a bit all over the place! I always loved diggers, tractors, and machinery. So the fact that I’m in construction now is fitting. But at the time, I liked the idea of driving them, perhaps as a builder. Later I thought about being an actor, and then a journalist. Ultimately what persuaded me to earn my degree in construction was the 2 weeks work experience I completed with a chartered surveyor when I was 15. I found it to be quite interesting. Plus, I knew there would be a lot of opportunities in the industry. Construction is booming. There’s such a demand for housing, office space, all the things our services can deliver.
MGAC: It sounds like your kid self would think your job today is pretty cool.
MT: If you were to tell me as a 10-year old, “You’ll be working in London, involved in the construction industry,” I think I’d be very proud of myself and maybe a little surprised.
MGAC: What keeps you busy these days?
MT: I’ve got one particular project I’ve been on since I joined, Audley Square House. It’s a prime luxury apartment development in Mayfair. And when I say “luxury,” we’re talking next-level. These apartments have sculptures and fountains and private pools fit for a king. It will be a significant part of the London property portfolio when it’s constructed. It’s been on site for 18 months. At the moment, we’re digging five levels underground and have hit basement level four. Below ground it will have car parking, pools for all residents to access, a spa, salon, and gym. It’s got everything.
MGAC: Sounds like it! What an exciting project to bring to life.
MT: Absolutely—it’s something really special. Another project I’m newly working on that will be incredible to see come to life is in Birmingham. It’s a significant redevelopment that’s part of an overall regeneration plan. It includes shopping markets, leisure facilities, cultural buildings, and a new hotel, to name a few. The plan is that it will provide approximately 51,000 new homes a ton of new office space and 100,000 new jobs. I’m working on just a section of the overall redevelopment. It will be like a new city within the city when it’s complete.
MGAC: That sounds like a great opportunity to work on a project that’s positively impacting the community around it.
MT: Absolutely. It feels very rewarding and satisfying to feel like you’ve made a difference and you’ve contributed to something that’s improving the lives of people in a community and helping to level up the country.
MGAC: What challenges have you been faced with so far in your role?
MT: I’d have to say COVID, mainly. I came to the company, and overnight all of my sites have shut down. We needed to work out a plan in real-time. Based on guidance from the government and Construction Leadership Council, we helped these building sites put things like social distancing markers, hand sanitizer points into place. We were turning these sites upside down to make them COVID secure, getting all the PPE. It was a huge challenge, and it reset a lot of our projects in a way that demanded a different perspective and way of working.
MGAC: Certainly a challenge, to say the least. What did that experience teach you?
MT: I think dealing with that very real-world experience has given me the confidence to handle ongoing challenges. Obviously, we get project challenges with design issues, people asking for advice. For example, a client might want a fabulous marble floor. But it’s slippery, and it doesn’t meet safety recommendations in its current form. It’s our job to help find the solution so that the Client achieve their desired finish. Perhaps we add a coating that improves the slip resistance—but doesn’t compromise the beauty. You’re also looking ahead to the next 10 years. Is this an asset that can be managed, cleaned, maintained efficiently?
MGAC: Right, so there’s an element of foresight and anticipation involved.
MT: Exactly. Because the design team is sometimes focused on how it looks rather than how it works. They don’t always pick up on things like, if there is no guarding around the roof for design purposes, the client is going to have to put in a harness system for the guys who clean the windows and maintain the plant equipment. That’s our job. After all, every building needs to be cleaned, and the more complex the design and shape, the more difficult it often is to clean. I think about New York and all its skyscrapers. At some point, someone thinks, “You know, those windows are getting pretty dirty. How are we going to clean them?” Take the spire on the Chrysler Building. I suppose that’s a hassle to get up and clean occasionally!
MGAC: Safe to say, most people don’t think about who cleans that spire!
MT: Right! But buildings need to be thought about in a functional sense, rather than just in the use sense. It’s funny. When you work in this role, it changes how you look at things. When you walk by a building, you don’t see the whole building. You see its components—and what it takes to maintain them.
MGAC: It’s clear this work has shaped the way you view the world around you. What about MGAC | RLF has made the biggest impact on you?
MT: Working here has presented me with challenges that have helped me grow. Because of COVID, the first few months were a big challenge, to say the least. It was quite the test. But I had the confidence to get through it. In many ways, I’d say it brought out the best in me. When you succeed, that gives you more confidence. And that’s still the case today, ongoing. I appreciate that the management here gives you a pathway to help you grow your career. They give you the tools to do the job well, and then the license to go on and get on with it.
MGAC: And what impact do you hope to have here?
MT: I’m relatively early in my career; I know I have a long way to go. I aim to keep myself humble and always willing to learn. But I’ve also been working long enough to know not to worry about asking stupid questions. And I understand the value of having an open mind and collaborating with peers. For example, if there’s knowledge I can pass along to younger colleagues in the office, especially in an area where I’m particularly knowledgeable and can give perspective, I’m eager to do that.
MGAC: That’s great. What have you found most rewarding about your job?
MT: As a health and safety risk management guy, it’s really my job to make sure everyone goes home safely at night and the buildings we help design are secure. So just in fulfilling my role, I should be helping to make the industry a safer place. I find that incredibly rewarding.
MGAC: What gives you energy to do that work each day?
MT: Having balance. Once I finish work for the day, I love to disconnect and do something active like go to the gym, playing golf, or spend time with my girlfriend, Chloe. Having a productive private life gives me the motivation to give 100 percent the next day at work. For me, energy comes from that balance and making sure everything is where it needs to be.
MGAC: That’s a great outlook!
MT: We all know that if you overwork yourself, stress creeps in, and you can start to dread work. I make sure that I set clear objectives, and even deadlines, to do things for myself. I want to give tomorrow’s Matt the easiest start to his day that I can.
MGAC: On that note, what’s your secret to starting the morning off on the right foot?
MT: English people and tea—it’s not a myth! The first thing I do is make a mug of tea.
MGAC: Name a favorite book.
MT: I’m a huge fan of the Song of Ice and Fire books by George RR Martin. Away from fantasy I also like books about tech pioneers as it’s fascinating to read about how their minds work and how they seek to shape the world. The two main inventors that interest me are Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.
MGAC: How about a favorite quote that inspires you?
MT: “Face your fears and live your dreams.” I was told this years ago by a friend, and I’m not even sure who originally said it. It resonates with me in regard to work. We are often worried about what might happen, like an overwhelming presentation or meeting, but when you face a fear head-on, I find it’s never as bad as you think. And when it comes to living your dreams, I find if you have an ambition in your mind of what you want to achieve, and work out how you’ll achieve it, you can make it happen.
MGAC: That’s a great one! And applicable to many situations.
MT: It really is, and if I never remember who said it, maybe I’ll pass it off as my own quote!
MGAC: What do you want your lasting impact to be?
MT: To feel like I made a difference and had a positive contribution to all the work I was involved in. Because it’s not always obvious–if you walk past a fantastic new building, often the credit goes to the developer and the architect. But you know from being on the project that you had a big role in how the building ultimately feels and functions. People often take safety for granted. But if no one knows about our involvement, that’s probably because everything is working as it should—there are no design flaws or accidents. So that’s a good thing for us. And we know that it was a job well done.
MGAC: Absolutely! Now, we have a few rapid-fire questions for you.
MGAC: What’s the first thing you do at work every day?
MT: Make a cup of tea.
MGAC: What’s the last thing?
MT: Plan ahead for the next day to give tomorrow’s me the best conditions to work in. And…probably make a cup of tea after that!
MGAC: What’s the weirdest thing we might find in your desk or work bag?
MT: A pair of $100 bills. It’s actually a funny story.
MGAC: Do tell!
MT: I’ve got an uncle who has lived in America for over 30 years. And his favorite brand of tea is English Red Label from a supermarket here called Sainsbury’s. Every time he comes to visit, he loads his suitcase with tea until it’s bursting at the seams. And any time I visit him, I bring him more. If he’s running out and no visits are ahead, I ship him a massive box of tea. I did that last year, and he sent me a Christmas card with $200 inside because the shipping costs were enormous—especially compared to the value of what I was sending! Needless to say, even the British abroad can’t do without their tea!
MGAC: Haha! What a great story. On the topic of food and drink, what’s your go-to weekday lunch?
MT: There’s a place I’ve been going to for over 5 years in Shoreditch High Street. There are food markets everywhere and one stall does a grilled chicken and rice box. It includes salad, halloumi cheese, and a drink for just £5. It’s so cheap, but the quality is really good and I have introduced quite a few people in the office to it.
MGAC: What’s the most used app on your phone?
MGAC: Describe your job in five words or less.
MT: Remove risk. Safety first.
MGAC: What’s something your colleagues don’t know about you?
MT: While they probably know that I love food, they might not know that I’m a passionate cook.
MGAC: Nice! What’s a recent recipe you made?
MT: The other day, I cooked beef wellington. It’s not actually as difficult to make as you’d think!
MGAC: We’ll take your word for it! What’s your biggest work goal for 2022?
MT: I want to have a positive impact on my projects and meet my objectives. And also to make the most of—and truly appreciate—being around colleagues in the office. For years, we took that for granted. But it’s such a special thing to be able to go out and get lunch, or just sit down and talk about a project.