How 62-year-old trailblazing engineer Deryl McKissack turned $1K into a $15 billion business

Abu Mubarik April 18, 2024
Deryl McKissack, president and CEO of McKissack and McKissack. [Photo: McKissack and McKissack]

Deryl McKissack is the President and CEO of McKissack & McKissack, a Washington, D.C.-based construction management and design firm behind some of the most prominent buildings in America.

Some of her buildings include the Smithsonian African American Museum of History and Culture and the Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson memorials. According to CNBC Make It, the company’s legacy dates back to her great-great-grandfather Mosses, who came to the U.S. as a skilled slave brick maker in 1790.

He would pass down the skill from one generation to the next. Eventually, his grandsons decided to establish a construction company in Tennessee called McKissack & McKissack. The family company is now based in New York and is run by McKissack’s twin sister, Cheryl.

“My father always took us [to] job sites and took us to the office. We talked about it around the table,” said McKissack. “It was always a very integral part of our family.”

In 1990, McKissack launched her own construction company with $1,000 from her savings. According to a report by Oxford Economics, the global construction industry is projected to be worth $13.9 trillion by 2037. However, women still make up only 1.4% of construction CEOs worldwide, with Black women accounting for a fraction of that.

McKissack’s desire to forge her own path and to see more Black women CEOs in the construction industry motivated her to start her company. Today, the company she started with just $1000 is now bringing in between $25 million and $30 million per year and managing over $15 billion in projects with offices in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Baltimore.

“I remember in college, there were probably three women in my class, and my twin sister was one of them. So it’s very rare that women are in this industry, but we’re excelling,” McKissack said.

Prior to launching her construction firm, McKissack had an engineering job with a six-figure salary. Getting clients was difficult for her during the early phase of her company, however, she presented slides of work she’d done for family members to help “sell my wares.” According to the entrepreneur, who has a Howard University civil engineering degree, it took her five years to get her first $10,000 line of credit.

“I probably went to 11 banks that told me ‘no’… [but] I had this burning passion on the inside that I just had to do this, and it was going to work out for me.”

Through her networking, she secured her first project, which was interior work at her alma mater. The successful execution of the job led to another, and McKissack built a portfolio of work to show prospective clients.

She then started applying for a federal contract and successfully got to work at the White House and U.S. Treasury buildings. Large federal projects soon followed.

Following her success in the construction industry, McKissack doesn’t want to be the only known Black person there. She wants to bring other Blacks into the construction industry through a nonprofit she founded called AEC Unites. It provides professional opportunities for black talent in the architecture, engineering, and construction industries. 

“I haven’t made it until more blacks and more women have made it,” she said, adding, “Once more people that look like me are in the industry and they’re dominating in parts of this industry, then I can sit back and say, ‘We’ve made it.’”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: April 18, 2024


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