Meet Mohammed Abu-Mhanna: A Motorcycle Enthusiast with a Designer’s Eye

Meet Mohammed Abu-Mhanna: A Motorcycle Enthusiast with a Designer’s Eye

Mohammed Abu-Mhanna is so much more than a VPCS senior project manager. This multi-talented professional rounds things out with a valuable architectural perspective, international construction and design experience, and an affinity for a certain mode of two-wheeled transportation. Get to know a bit more about our friend Mohammed in this Q-and-A:

Q: When did you join Team VPCS?

A: I started with the company in May 2019 as a project manager. I was first assigned to the team at San Jose Unified School District, which is where I stayed until last year (when the bond ended). Since then, I’ve moved to the Hillsborough City School District, run by Eric Van Pelt, where I’m a senior project manager.

Q: And you’re a trained architect, is that right?

A: Yes. I started studying architecture in Jordan, where I’m from originally, then completed the bachelor’s program in architecture at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. I’m also certified as a LEED AP. I worked for several years in the Bay Area for a couple of big U.S.-based architecture firms. One of the biggest projects I worked on as a senior architect was the New Doha International Airport in Qatar, which was the largest construction project in the Middle East at that time.

Q: But you pivoted away from architecture after that?

A: Yes, at least away from working for architecture firms. I moved from California to Dubai in 2009 to work with a general contractor. It was the middle of the Great Recession, and everything everywhere seemed like it had just stopped – especially in construction – except in Dubai. There, things were booming. It might have been the only city in the world where things were still being built. I was assigned by that general contractor to manage a big project that happened to be going up in Jordan, right in my home town. So I stayed and worked on that in Jordan for a few years before coming back to the U.S. in 2017.

Q: How frequently do you draw on your architecture training in your work now?

A: Every single day! I just love architecture, so it’s fun to use that knowledge when I work with the designers and contractors on VPCS jobs. It’s really helpful to know how to read the drawings before construction begins; I can catch things early that we might need to adjust to help avoid change orders. I also like to think of myself as an expert in value engineering, which is really useful as a construction manager.

Q: What originally compelled you to come to the U.S. from Jordan?

A: Well, I first came here to finish my education. Having a degree from the U.S. is always preferable. And second, my sister had lived here for many years before I came, so there was also a family pull. It was such a privilege to be able to join her here; she helped me a lot when I first arrived.

Q: Is she your only sibling?

A: No, far from it. I’m the youngest of seven and the only son. My dad always wanted a boy to carry on the family name, so after six girls my parents got me. Then they stopped.

Q: Your dad got the son he’d been waiting for!

A: Yes. And it meant he could give me the name he’d been waiting to give. In Arabic, the tradition is to give sons middle names that match their fathers’ and grandfathers’ names. It goes like this: the son’s name to the father’s to the grandfather’s and then to the family’s. In my family, that meant I ended up with a pretty powerful name. I’m Mohammed, which is the prophet of Islam. My dad’s name is Moses, the prophet of Judaism. And my grandfather was Isa, which is the Islamic translation of Jesus. So I’ve got all three prophets of the world’s great religions in my name. Sometimes when I say my full name, people ask, “Are you joking?” And I just say, “No. That’s my real name!” But when people familiar with this tradition hear I’ve got six older sisters, they get it.

Q: Do you still have family in Jordan?

A: Yes – my other five sisters still live in Jordan. They’re all married with lots of kids. (Since I’m the youngest, I was an uncle starting when I was only seven years old.) It’s great, because there are a lot of relatives to see when we go back to visit, which I try to do at least every couple of years. My three sons have all gotten to know their cousins in Jordan.

Q: When do you get the opportunity to speak Arabic?

A: My wife and I speak Arabic with our children, so all three of our boys have been raised bilingually. Even though my younger two were born in Jordan, we came to the U.S. when they were only five and six. So they were in English-speaking schools from a very young age and they now speak it beautifully without any accent – unlike me! And of course I speak Arabic with my sister. It’s very important to my wife and me to keep the Arabic language familiar to our children’s ears.

Q: Tell us about this picture of you on the motorcycle.

A: I first started riding a motorcycle when I was finishing my degree at the California College of the Arts. I was working full-time for an architecture firm in the City and also taking a full class load. I’d worked it out with my employer to let me leave the office early to make it to my classes on time. And in San Francisco, the only way you’re ever going to get anywhere with that kind of tight schedule is by motorcycle. So I got myself one and the very first time I rode it, it just got into me. That picture was actually taken when I moved back to Jordan. You don’t need them there, but I missed having one so much that I treated myself. What can I say? I love riding motorcycles.

March 25, 2024