Inside the Oldest Black-and Female-Owned Construction Management Firm in America
By Danielle Dorsey
With almost 115 years in business, McKissack & McKissack is the nation’s oldest Black-owned and female-run construction management firm.
Cheryl McKissack Daniel took over the family business in 2001 and successfully moved their headquarters from Nashville to New York. The move turned out to be a profitable one, as the firm is currently assigned to just about every major infrastructure improvement project financed by the city and state, including the current construction at LaGuardia Airport and the new Terminal One at JFK.
McKissack & McKissack’s story dates back to a man named Moses McKissack, who was born enslaved in Tennessee. Moses was taught the trade of brick making by his Scottish slave owner and passed it down to McKissack Daniel’s grandfather and great uncle, who incorporated the family business in 1905. The company was responsible for building the Tuskegee air force base where Black pilots trained in addition to homes, hospitals, and colleges.
In 1983, McKissack Daniel’s father and then CEO of McKissack & McKissack, William DeBerry McKissack, had a debilitating stroke and her mother, Leatrice McKissack, decided against selling the company and took it over for Cheryl and her twin sister Deryl to someday run. They both now continue the family name in the construction industry. Cheryl, with the original family-owned company, and Deryl, who started her own architectural and construction management firm, also named McKissack & McKissack, in Washington D.C.
The country’s landscapes have shifted since the company got its start, but managing a construction firm in this male-dominated industry is still no walk in the park. McKissack Daniel told CBS News that succeeding in construction’s big leagues “takes relationships, and getting people to realize that you bring value to the table something unique and different.”
The strategy seems to be working, and McKissack & McKissack is slated to revamp Long Island’s railroad hub, which runs underneath the Brooklyn Nets’ home.
McKissack Daniel makes it a point to use her position to provide opportunities to others. Her workforce is composed of 61 percent minorities and 34 percent women. When McKissack & McKissack was hired to work on the $325 million patient pavilion at Harlem Hospital Center, they accepted job applications from locals in the neighborhood. McKissack Daniel ended up hiring 200 people for the project and developed a job training workforce to assist in placing the rest of the 7,000 people who applied.