News + Ideas

MGAC Impacts: Tomi Owolabi on International Development, the Importance of Visibility, and Thrifty Fashion Finds


Tomi in Seoul, Korea with her husband.

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 Tomi Owolabi, Project Manager at MGAC.

MGAC: Hi, Tomi! Welcome to the Impact Blog!

Tomi Owolabi (TO): Thanks, glad to be here!

MGAC: Tell us about your role here at MGAC.

TO: Okay, so I’m a Project Manager based in our London office. Our job is to oversee a project on behalf of the client—in all aspects—from the early stages to the end. I work on a few different projects, and for each, I serve as one of the main points of contact on the job.

MGAC: And what led you to this role?

TO: My background is actually in architecture, but as an architect, I always thought it would be interesting to be a project manager. That’s something I always thought about when I was still studying. MGAC is actually my first transition out of architecture!

MGAC: Oh, neat! And how did you land at MGAC?

TO: I went through a recruiter who told me about the company. They said it’s a place where everyone was really happy. When I went to the interview, I just had a feeling the recruiter was right. I was really excited about a particular project we spoke about, one where my design skills and knowledge could be put to use. The company was growing internationally at the time, which really aligned with what I was looking for.

MGAC: Awesome. Did you always see yourself ending up in this industry?

TO: No! From practically the moment I could speak up until the age of 17, I wanted to be a doctor. I was actually studying sciences for A levels. Let’s just say chemistry and I, we didn’t quite get on. I was also doing some design courses, though, and was suggested to study architecture, as I’d be able to use my design skill in any industry. So, I went down the architecture route, and I’ve not looked back since.

MGAC: Sounds like it! So, what’s keeping you busy on the project front these days?

TO: I’ve got a variety of projects going. I’ve got a hospitality and residential project in Montenegro. I’ve also got an office building here in London. And I just started to help out a little bit on a couple of hotel projects here in London as well.

MGAC: Wow, a nice mix!

TO: Yes, the variety is one of the reasons why I was really glad I made the move over. I was feeling a bit niched in my architecture career. The fact that I can work on and use my skills on a wide range of projects here is something that keeps me really excited about what I do.

MGAC: And have you enjoyed having international work?

TO: Yes, absolutely. I’ve always been interested in international development, especially on the hospitality side, so it’s been perfectly aligned with my interests!

MGAC: Have you faced any challenges with your work so far?

TO: On the international front, the challenge is working with a client who isn’t based in the same city as you. And the different regulations for the locale in which the project is based. It’s been very interesting learning about the unique planning rules and things like that. With one of my other projects, which is actually onsite, the challenge is being in the middle of different parties at all times—seeing the different perspectives and issues and needing to keep everyone on the same page and moving forward. It’s a lot of listening and negotiating.

MGAC: What have you learned from that experience?

TO: It’s all taught me a lot about the nuances of being a project manager. I am a people person, but this takes it to another level. There’s a lot at stake in each project, so communication is so important.

MGAC: What do you find most rewarding about your work?

TO: It’s the moment when I see things click for people. When they say, “Oh, okay, you asked me to do this for a reason. I didn’t see it at the time, but now I do.”

MGAC: What kind of impact do you hope to have with your work?

TO: I would really love to be an example for people who look like me that also want to go into project management, design, and the construction industry. I want people to see that they can also make an impact on projects. I didn’t really feel like I had any role models that looked like me when I was starting out. Even now, it’s still quite rare to find somebody onsite who’s a woman, let alone a person with African heritage. I think that visibility is important, and if I can play a role in more people taking a chance on construction, architecture, and design, and help people navigate an industry that wasn’t necessarily meant for them, that’s the kind of impact I’d like to have.

MGAC: That’s so important.

TO: Yes, I’d really like to be a mentor for younger people. I want to be the sort of person that new graduates go to for advice, to make connections, to find a job. That is something I wish I had when I was starting out. In the long term, I hope to see more diverse people not only coming into the industry, but also reaching senior positions. One of the first things I like to do when I hear of a company is to scroll through the people page. Some companies are doing better than others, but the industry still has a ways to go.

MGAC: Your work takes place across several different cities. What kind of impact do you hope to have on the various communities you work with?

TO: A few things come to mind! I think a lot about my international project in Montenegro, where we are really embracing the local community. Construction work increases jobs and brings money for development. You can see that happening. I feel privileged to work in an environment that can help generate that. And through my hospitality projects, I get to see real placemaking unfold. For me, that’s especially exciting, considering my architecture background. I can see the transformation from a site without much of anything to an inviting development that brings people together.

MGAC: That’s great.

TO: Yeah, and company-wide, one thing that I really, really like about MGAC is the charitable giving. There’s a pot put aside for us to give to organizations in our industry, and we’re able to suggest who it goes to. So, when we succeed as a company, we can help others at the same time.

MGAC: With such wide-reaching projects, what keeps you energized?

TO: I try to take time in the morning to prepare for the day. I try to do that as often as I can with a morning routine, just to get my head in the right place before I tackle the day.

MGAC: What does that routine look like?

TO: I try to do some stretches. Then I do a bit of reading, prayer, meditation—that sort of thing. Once I’ve gotten ready, I walk to work. I was intentional about moving close to the office so I could do that. It’s about a 35-minute walk, which helps set the day off on the right foot.

MGAC: Is that a rain or shine walk?

TO: If it rains, then I’m relegated to the bus. It does rain quite a bit in London!

MGAC: You mentioned reading as part of your daily routine. Do you have a favorite book that’s made an impact on you?

TO: I read the Bible, and I’m also a real Audible person. I have been listening to some super inspiring books. One of them is The Multi-Hyphen Method by Emma Gannon. It talks about how you can be more than just one thing, and the importance of playing to all your skills. Another that really impacted me was Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I heard about it a while ago, but I wasn’t in the right headspace for it. I finally was, and oh my gosh, it really touched my heart.

MGAC: Great picks. And do you have a favorite quote?

TO: I do. It’s “Opportunity only has hair in the front.” It’s a quote my parents used to say. It means, once opportunity has turned its head, it’s too late. There’s nothing to grab onto.

MGAC: Good one! Okay, are you ready for some rapid-fire questions?

TO: Let’s do it!

MGAC: What’s the first thing you do every day at work?

TO: I drop off my backpack with my laptop and go get coffee.

MGAC: And the last thing?

TO: I put on my trainers to walk home.

MGAC: If we were to look in your desk or work bag, what’s the most interesting thing we might find?

TO: Thick, long socks. That way, I am always prepared in case I need to go on-site. Site boots are not comfortable unless you’ve got thick socks!

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

TO: A sandwich from Pret. It always hits the spot, and you can find it all over. There are three locations in close proximity to the office.

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

TO: YouTube. I consume a lot of content there—to learn new things and just for fun!

MGAC: Describe your job in five words or less.

TO: Interesting. Unpredictable. Challenging. Rewarding.

MGAC: What’s your biggest work goal for 2023?

TO: Learn more about the retrofit industry. Retrofit and sustainability are quite critical at the moment, so I’m filling in my knowledge gaps there!

MGAC: What’s something your colleagues might not know about you?

TO: I’ve got a keen interest in what we call charity shops here, where you find used clothing. I have an Instagram account for my thrifty fashion finds!

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