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MGAC Impacts: Rob Olivet on the Impact of COVID-19, Lifting Up Others, and Putting Family First


Rob Olivet and family at Greek Peak Mountain Ski Resort in Cortland, NY.
Rob Olivet and family at Greek Peak Mountain Ski Resort in Cortland, NY.

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.

NOTE: As you all know, lives across the world have been impacted drastically over the last few weeks due to the spread of COVID-19. Every industry has been affected—including ours. However, in the midst of the chaos, we have decided to resume our Impact blog series—not just in spite of this outbreak, but because of it. We know that the positive impact we make on our friends, families, and communities during this difficult time is more important now than ever. So please join us as we get to know Robert Olivet, Vice President at MGAC.

MGAC: Hey, Rob. What a week we have had! How are you doing?

Rob Olivet: Doing okay!

MGAC: Well, these are crazy times, but we appreciate you still taking the time to talk with us today.

RO: Of course.

MGAC: Let’s start with hearing about what you do at MGAC. What’s your role?

RO: Sure. I manage a team based out of the DC office, working on everything from small fit-out projects to large base building construction. We onboarded a new member to our team the first day we were all working from home, so that was quite an interesting day one. She’ll probably never forget it.

MGAC: I can only imagine. I know these aren’t normal times right now, but normally, what takes up most of your time?

RO: Well, a lot of things. But I’d say most of my time is spent supporting my team and making sure they are positioned well to lead, manage and deliver these projects. We are all committed to our projects and to our clients, and at the end of the day, our clients hire us to be their trusted advisor and advocate, managing projects on their behalf. So a lot of my time is focused on that client engagement to ensure our team and our clients are setup to be successful.

MGAC: That brings up a good point. How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your work? I’m sure, right now, it’s been exceptionally difficult to do many of those things.

RO: Yeah, it’s been interesting.

MGAC: What are some things that this outbreak has taught you over this last week that you’re applying to your work?

RO: That’s a good question. Something that has always been critical to the success of any project, absent COVID-19, is communication. But now, we’re getting inundated with notices from general contractors and clients and designers and architects and engineers, and everyone’s approach to dealing with the situation is constantly evolving and changing. Working remote all the time teaches you how important regular touchpoints are, and also making sure all parties are coordinated based on accurate information. So, we’re seeing the emphasis on communication being more important than ever right now, given the current state of affairs. It has always been critical, but it’s all the more important now, given where we are today.

MGAC: That makes total sense. So how did you get started at MGAC? What has your career trajectory looked like?

RO: I spent the first part of my career in the construction industry in the DC area, working for a large GC. I was working on multiple projects within the City, mostly higher education projects. Then I got married and my wife got an opportunity overseas—this was before we had kids, before we had a family—so after much thought and deliberation, we took the plunge and went overseas. We had a great time, it was a great experience, and I was able to find work for a developer over there.

MGAC: Where was there?

RO: We were in Scotland. I ran a team managing the infrastructure work on a 2,000-acre site, so that opened my eyes to the owner’s side of the table. When we made the decision to come back, I reached out to some prior DC contacts I had and asked for recommendations for companies that do that on a large scale, and I was referred to MGAC. A mutual colleague synced Mark and I up and we went from there. The rest, as they say, is history.

MGAC: Seems pretty serendipitous. What year was that?

RO: We moved back to DC in 2015.

MGAC: What do you find most rewarding about this job?

RO: I recently led the relocation of The Urban Institute’s headquarters in Downtown DC, and it was the first time they had a major relocation in their history, since their founding in 1968. They have an incredible mission solving some of the most challenging and complex problems in society and making a big impact in communities in the district and elsewhere. So being able to work with an organization like that—getting to help them in their mission, getting their move to be as seamless as possible, getting them in their new building on time so they can continue their great work and have their 50 year celebration—that is a big part of what we do.

MGAC: That’s great.

RO: Yeah. Just making our clients’ lives easier so they can continue to do what they do. We get to work with a lot of great non-profits in DC, each of whom are actively supporting the communities, which continues to be very rewarding. We really make their mission ours.

MGAC: Is that what gets you out of bed in the morning? Making those missions yours?

RO: Yeah, there are a couple things. There isn’t just one thing for me. Each day I’m inspired by my family—my kids, my wife. Seeing them grow and develop day by day. My kids are young, so that certainly gives me energy. Also, working in a firm like MGAC, helping other folks in the community realize their missions. The work is always different; there’s always a new challenge to address, always a new challenge to solve. And we don’t run away from challenges and problems. We thrive on them. It’s why we’re here.

MGAC: Let’s flip that question around—how do you wind down at night after a long day?

RO: There are some nights when I should probably wind down sooner than I do.

MGAC: We’re all guilty of that.

RO: It goes back to my kids, probably. My wife and I both work, so picking them up and seeing the joy on their face. Coming home with them, putting them down to bed. It puts everything in perspective. I may dial-in after they go to bed—send some e-mails and whatnot—but at the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about.

MGAC: We’ve talked a lot about impact today—the impact of the outbreak, the impact of the work MGAC does, and the impact of our clients in their communities. What do you want your lasting impact to be?

RO: That’s a profound question.

MGAC: It is!

RO: When you’re able to influence colleagues and co-workers and really see them grow, I think that’s something to really be proud of. It’s not something that happens immediately, but over time, when you see something you taught somebody or helped somebody do, and you see them grow and carry that on, I think that’s very rewarding.

MGAC: Good answer. Are you ready for some rapid fire questions?

RO: Let’s go.

MGAC: Name a book that changed your life.

RO: When I’m able to read, which isn’t a ton with little kids right now, what I find really interesting are the biographies of folks who have made a big impact on society—Steve Jobs, Colin Powell, etc. I wouldn’t say I’m a huge history buff, but reading about folks who have made a significant impact globally or who have transformed society is really interesting. I like seeing insights into what made them tick and what their motivations were.

MGAC: Describe your job in five words or less.

RO: Hmm, five words. It’s our mantra, but “trusted advisor.” Also, “bottle of aspirin.” That’s five words.

MGAC: Ha! How about the first thing you do when you get into the office.

RO: The first thing I do… fire up my laptop and grab a cup of coffee.

MGAC: How about the last thing you do before you leave?

RO: As much as possible, I try to check in with any of my team members that are still there. To see if there is anything they need from me before I check out for a little bit.

MGAC: Go-to lunch order?

RO: It’s gotta be Potbelly. Quick, easy, efficient.

MGAC: Love Potbelly. What’s the go-to order there?

RO: Turkey and swiss.

MGAC: Most used app on your phone?

RO: I would probably say the News app, or maybe Waze. Coming into DC, I know about 15 different ways at this point, but depending on traffic, it can change by the day.

MGAC: The most unique thing we may find in your desk or work bag?

RO: The most unique thing… I’m not sure if there’s anything really unique that I keep. Sorry, I’m kind of lame on that one.

MGAC: Where do you see yourself in five years?

RO: Another profound question. Going back to some of your earlier questions, within the firm and for myself personally, I see myself helping MGAC’s footprint grow. Within DC and nationally. We do work all over the globe, and have done billions of dollars of work within the last five years, but that still only represents a fraction of the potential out there. I want to build teams that can be successful and autonomous. That’s where I want to be.

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