MGAC Impacts: Vince McLaughlin on Asking Questions, Bettering the World by Building, and Slaying Project Dragons
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 Vince McLaughlin, Assistant Project Manager at MGAC.
MGAC: Hey Vince! We are so glad to have you on the Impact Blog.
Vince McLaughlin (VM): Great to be here!
MGAC: What do you do at MGAC, and how long have you been with the firm?
VM: I’m an Assistant Project Manager, working on projects either as part of a team comprised of multiple MGAC staff members or independently. I’m based in the DC office, and I joined in May 2017.
MGAC: What were you doing before you came here?
VM: I was working with some general contractors in the area, learning as much as I could about construction. I have an educational background in architecture, and I always wanted to find out how buildings actually got built, beyond just how they were designed on paper. A family member recommended that I “put on boots and jump in a hole.” So, I started learning. While managing some warranty work, I experienced working directly with a client—helping them with their needs, solving their problems—I knew that was the path for me.
MGAC: Very cool! So, was architecture always your passion when you were younger?
VM: I always loved math and science. For a long time, I thought I’d be a doctor, like my dad. But in college, I took courses in architecture, and it was like a flashback to all the LEGO and popsicle stick houses and tree forts I made as a kid, and I was like, “I want to build stuff!” My mom used to tell me as a baby I was obsessed with trucks and heavy machinery. She said when she couldn’t get me to go to sleep, she’d drive me around to construction sites to watch the cranes and trucks.
MGAC: Safe to say they don’t put you to sleep anymore! What would that kid think about your current job today?
VM: I definitely think I did right by my younger self. It’s fun to go to work in a sandbox every day.
MGAC: We understand you had a pretty exciting opportunity when you joined the firm?
VM: You could say that! Four months in, I went to The United Arab Emirates to work on the Bulgari Resort Dubai. The project was already underway when I went over. Our client needed someone on the ground every day to ensure quality control and make sure all the systems, facilities, and amenities were online and up to their standards by the time they opened. Ultimately, I was there for seven months.
MGAC: It sounds like that was a cool project to start out on.
VM: It absolutely was. I mean, it’s a hotel, yacht club, and residential towers that sit on a man-made island in the shape of a seahorse. It doesn’t get more sandbox than that! It’s so crazy to help bring something like that to life. It’s the kind of thing I always dreamed of doing when I chose this career path and was really affirming after the time spent getting my sea legs in the industry. I’d recommend it to any bright young professional considering a project management or consulting career. Why not choose construction? Why not build something physical? Why not have the opportunity to always be working on a cool new project?
MGAC: We’d tend to agree! So, what’s keeping you busy these days?
VM: Right now, we’re down at the 555 Pennsylvania Avenue project, the former Newseum location in Washington, DC. Johns Hopkins University (JHU) is consolidating a lot of its graduate facilities from Massachusetts Avenue. It’s been going on for just over a year, and we have until August 2023 to be ready for students. It’s a university building with heavy infrastructure needs (structural, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical). But there’s also an art component. We’re helping the design team relocate a part of the Berlin Wall from a JHU property across town. Not something you do every day—that’s for sure.
MGAC: Amazing! Tell us more about your role on the project.
VM: I have been in charge of the structural elements: the steel and concrete. It’s extremely extensive. The Newseum was so unique that, in order to repurpose the building, we had to take many of the existing bones out and put new bones back in. We currently have some 140 tons of reinforcing steel holding the building together as we install the new steel and concrete structure.
MGAC: Wow. What’s it been like working at such a high-profile location as Pennsylvania Avenue?
VM: Being right on Pennsylvania Avenue has kept things interesting, to say the least. When complete, this will be the closest university building to the Capitol. But being so close to the Capitol means there have been no shortage of hubbubs, stirrings, protests, and road closures. It’s right in the middle of it all. We were on the inauguration route; we’ve had motorcades coming through—just about every week we’ll have someone telling us they’re closing the road for a weekend event.
MGAC: You’ve definitely got some stories to tell—and not just about this project. When you think about your time with the company, what at MGAC has most made an impact on you?
VM: I’d say the leadership. Here’s an example. When the pandemic sent us all home, Mark Anderson instituted the Squawk Box. It started as a twice-weekly, Roosevelt-esque fireside chat over Zoom. He spoke openly and directly about the goings-on of the company. In a world that had become so strange and uncertain nearly overnight, Mark answered questions and provided transparency on our path ahead. That kind of leadership fostered a lot of trust and confidence in my place here.
MGAC: Transparency really can be so powerful, especially in times of uncertainty. And what a great way to bring people together!
VM: Exactly. In construction, it’s not uncommon to feel insulated—like you’re only a part of your project team and not actively interacting with people throughout the company. But MGAC really tries to cultivate that sense of community. Of course, that wasn’t always easy during the pandemic, hence the Squawk Box debut. Staying connected with my co-workers during the pandemic is one of the many reasons why I joined the DEI team, and I’ve loved being a steward of that initiative. We’ve offered some really cool programs and helped launch exciting company-wide changes like the addition of pronouns to people’s signatures. My next big project with DEI is “Food that Brings Us Together,” a cookbook of recipes that are culturally or personally important to people within the company.
MGAC: We love celebrating our people—what a fun way to do it!
VM: Yeah! I mean, we are a company of really cool people doing really cool work. I brag about it! Once I was on a recruiting trip to Penn State. The students were asking, “What part of these projects are you working on?” And I said, “The whole thing!” That’s one of the aspects I love about my work here. We can have a role in every part of it—and we often do. We make incredibly cool things come to life. I love to be able to drive around town and say, “I worked on that!”
MGAC: What challenges have you been faced with so far?
VM: Across my career, my biggest challenge has been really having no construction experience prior to graduating college. My degree was art history and architectural studies. But in some ways, I’ve been all the better for it. I’d say my key to learning this business has been finding the right people—be they CEOs or ironworkers—and getting to know them, asking questions, and learning as much as you can.
MGAC: Sound wisdom! What else have you learned along the way?
VM: Whatever could happen, will happen. Every project has a dragon buried in it somewhere. You’ve got to find it before it finds you. That’s what I tell myself at the beginning of each project. There’s always something that will rear its ugly head at you; you’ve got to spot it and be prepared for it. And never assume anything. I’m learning every day. There will never be a time when I’ve figured it all out, which I love. This work is ever-evolving, and that’s exciting. I’m constantly humbling myself and reminding myself not to be afraid to ask smart people smart questions—or dumb questions, for that matter!
MGAC: A great perspective! And given the range of projects you might work on, there’s no shortage of opportunities to learn. When you take a step back and take it all in, how do you hope your work here will impact your community at large?
VM: We’re building spaces in which the human race can progress. I’m working with a major university to grow its advanced international studies program, which prepares people to work with others across the globe. I’ve worked on hospitality projects that invite people from around the world to unwind and recharge. MGAC has ongoing work with DC Public Schools. We’ve got our hands on a lot of projects in which we’re shaping the world and bringing the world closer together. We have every iron in the fire. I can’t think of a more direct way to make the world a better place than to build cool projects that people can enjoy, places where people can learn, do business, and live in.
MGAC: What have you found most rewarding about your job?
VM: Honestly, a satisfied client. To see a literal building problem solved, to see the finished product come to life, that’s the best.
MGAC: What gives you energy?
VM: I have to keep moving physically. It might be running, hiking, or rowing—I even picked up rollerblading during quarantine. I ride my bike to work and get plenty of steps in while walking the jobsite!
MGAC: What is your secret to winding down at the end of a long day?
VM: I love cooking; it’s my favorite hobby. At home, I’m always putting on music and trying out new recipes. It helps my mind completely unplug from the day.
MGAC: What about your secret to starting the morning off on the right foot?
VM: It’s really about the night before—I have to go to bed at a time with my wake-up in mind. And in the morning, I know that it takes me exactly 14 minutes to ride to the jobsite with no red lights, so I need to get downstairs to my bike and kick the tires with that much time to spare. I’m hoping to get it down to 13 minutes before winter.
MGAC: Name a book that has made a significant impact on your life.
VM: There are many! Recently, I read Normandy ‘44 by James Holland. It’s a pretty comprehensive overview of the invasion of Normandy. I read it in advance of going to Omaha Beach. Even with all that knowledge of the book, all the movies I’d seen, everything paled in comparison to being there in person. It was amazing, and an incredible way to define human sacrifice and human courage. It made me think a whole lot about that in my own life.
MGAC: How about a favorite quote that inspires you?
VM: My favorite Frank Lloyd Wright quote is, “I think Nature should be spelled with a capital N.”
MGAC: What do you want your lasting impact to be?
VM: I really invest in what I do personally, whether it’s cooking a meal or constructing a building. I hope my lasting legacy is that people know I was personally invested in every project, every part of my life. I’d also say that, like a good Schwarzenegger movie, getting called out of retirement would be pretty cool. I’ve seen retired industry people be asked to come back and run projects. That’s probably when I would know I did a great job.
MGAC: Now, we have a few rapid-fire questions for you to answer. Are you game?
VM: You bet!
MGAC: Describe your job in five words or less.
VM: Client-oriented, chaos-organizing management.
MGAC: What’s the first thing you do at work every day?
VM: Make the coffee if it’s not made already.
MGAC: What’s the last thing?
VM: Clean my coffee cup!
MGAC: What’s the weirdest thing we might find in your desk or work bag?
VM: I have little LEGO construction dump trucks and backhoes on my desk. I bought them when I was on a project near the LEGO store in Tysons.
MGAC: What’s your go-to weekday lunch?
VM: The deli across the street.
MGAC: Your order?
VM: A turkey club.
MGAC: Where do you see yourself in five years?
VM: Teaching a group of hungry assistant project managers everything I know.
MGAC: What’s something your colleagues don’t know about you?
VM: I was once crowned the Heineken Wing King of Arlington, VA in a wing-eating contest.
MGAC: It’s hard to believe 2021 is nearing its close. What’s your biggest work goal for the year?
VM: To have an official project team happy hour with the jobsite team—waiting for permission!