ECONOMY & WORK
MONEY 101
NEWS
PERSONAL FINANCE
NET WORTH
About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy Terms of Use DMCA Opt-out of personalized ads
© Copyright 2023 Market Analyst. Market Analyst is a registered trademark. All Rights Reserved. People may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.
Market Analyst Logo
Market Analyst Logo
MARKETANALYST.US / ECONOMY & WORK

How This Black Woman Turned Her $1,000 Startup Into $15 Billion Construction Empire

Deryl took a risk because she was motivated by a desire to leave her mark and see more Black women in leadership roles in the construction industry.
PUBLISHED APR 8, 2024
Cover Image Source: Black Business Icon Award winners Deryl McKissack (L) and Cheryl McKissack-Daniel speak during BET's Soul Train Weekend | Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for BET
Cover Image Source: Black Business Icon Award winners Deryl McKissack (L) and Cheryl McKissack-Daniel speak during BET's Soul Train Weekend | Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for BET

Deryl McKissack’s life story is a journey of five generations. She is 62 and runs McKissack & McKissack, a Washington firm known for designing and managing construction projects for some of the most famous buildings today. Deryl's great-great grandpa Moses was an expert bricklayer who arrived in America in 1790 as a slave. Moses's building prowess was inherited through the family tree, motivating his grandsons to launch a construction business in Tennessee. That's why they dubbed it McKissack & McKissack, per CNBC Make It.

Image Source:  Deryl McKissack attends the Pérez Art Museum Miami Art of the Party at Perez Art Museum Miami| Photo by Jason Koerner/Getty Images for PAMM
Deryl McKissack attends the Pérez Art Museum Miami Art of the Party at Perez Art Museum Miami | Photo by Jason Koerner/Getty Images for PAMM

The business remained in the family and Cheryl, Deryl's twin sister, is currently in charge of it from its New York location. Deryl remembers how her father took them to job sites and had dinner table conversations with them about the family company. Deryl took a risk because she was motivated by a desire to leave her mark and see more Black women in leadership roles in the construction industry. In 1990, using $1,000 of her savings, she started her own business. In the present day, her business brings in between $25 and $30 million annually. With offices in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and other major cities, they manage projects valued at an astounding $15 billion.

Deryl remembers her college days, where she was one of the few women in her engineering class, alongside her twin sister. She knows it's not common for women to be in this industry, but she's proving they can thrive. After quitting a comfortable engineering position with a huge salary, Deryl had to face the harsh realities of becoming her boss. Even with her degree and experience, she had trouble finding clients. To attract business, she lugged an outdated projector about and displayed her completed family member crafts. She even hired her first employee after placing a job ad in The Washington Post. It wasn't an easy ride. Banks rejected her repeatedly due to their skepticism. Deryl was driven by a burning conviction that she had to make this work. She had to work hard, stay determined, and be resourceful.

Image Source: Deryl McKissack (L) and Cheryl McKissack-Daniel attend BET's Soul Train Weekend: Leading With Soul Luncheon at Harlem Parish | Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for BET
Deryl McKissack (L) and Cheryl McKissack-Daniel attend BET's Soul Train Weekend: Leading With Soul Luncheon at Harlem Parish | Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for BET

By using her connections, Deryl was able to get her company's first assignment, which involved renovating her former school. They took on the task together with her lone employee. Deryl put in 80 hours a week and did a lot of filthy work. Deryl accumulated a portfolio of completed projects to show prospective customers. She entered the competition for government contracts and was hired for positions at esteemed establishments such as the U.S. Treasury building and the White House. Larger federal initiatives started to approach after that.

Deryl hardly paid herself in the beginning—$18,000 in the second year, and only $7,200 in the first. About a decade ago, she allowed $100,000. Along the way, she made sure to take care of her employees, prioritizing their pay over her own. "I exploded with pride when I looked at where we started and what we've done...the difference we've made in people's lives," reflects Darryl.

The Oxford Economics survey for 2023 expects manufacturing to be worth a staggering $13.9 trillion by 2037. Only 1.4% of all CEOs in the construction industry are women, and Black women constitute a fraction of this percentage. “I haven’t made it until more Blacks and more women have made it,” said Deryl.

Image Source: Black Business Icon Award winners Cheryl McKissack-Daniel (L) and Deryl McKissack attend BET's Soul Train Weekend: Leading With Soul Luncheon at Harlem Parish | Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for BET
Black Business Icon Award winners Cheryl McKissack-Daniel (L) and Deryl McKissack attend BET's Soul Train Weekend | Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for BET

Deryl and her sister own different companies even though they operate under the same name. Nonetheless, they frequently share ideas and work together on projects. Despite working in different places, Deryl finds comfort in the knowledge that her identical twin shares her struggles and understands them. She stresses the value of having a solid support network, which Black and female construction executives frequently lack because of their rarity. She established AEC Unites, a nonprofit organization, to give Black talent access to opportunities in design, engineering, and construction.

Deryl won't stop until more people like her succeed in the industry. She hopes her daughter, currently studying bioengineering at New York University, will carry on the family tradition in construction. "I always tell her that no matter what path she chooses, it'll lead back to McKissack," Deryl says. "And how she gets there is up to her."

POPULAR ON MARKET REALIST
MORE ON MARKET REALIST