This is a man’s world
This is a man’s world
But it wouldn’t be nothing
Nothing without a woman or a girl – James Brown
One of the most thrown around phrases has been ‘behind every great man is a great woman. Well, women are proving more and more than can not only stand beside men but also in the front. Their qualifications and talents are still being overlooked and underrepresented in the business world.
James Brown’s 1966 lyrics now apply to the world of construction. Cheryl McKissack Daniel, who is the president and CEO of McKissack & McKissack, the oldest Black-owned and female-run construction company in the US at right at home, being a woman in the male-dominated construction industry.
Even if you haven’t heard of Cheryl McKissack, she owns the oldest minority-owned professional design and construction firm in the United States. A family-owned business for more than 100 years, McKissack has been a leader in planning, design, and construction of more than 6,000 projects, proudly upholding the standards of excellence established by its forefathers.
Based in New York City, McKissack & McKissack is known for several major projects including the revamping of Long Island’s railroad hub, which runs below the Brooklyn Net’s home. They are also the firm behind the new construction taking place at LaGuardia Airport and the new Terminal One at JFK.
As reported by CBS News, “in the male-dominated world of construction, McKissack Daniel’s business is assigned to just about every major infrastructure improvement project financed by the city and state of New York.”
McKissack provides a wide range of services to a variety of government agencies, municipalities, private institutions, industries, designers and developers, and attributes its longevity and success to the talented, service-oriented professionals that comprise the McKissack organization. McKissack employees are known for their skills, integrity, objectivity, and adaptability. This winning combination of experience, coupled with the firm’s full range of professional services, allows McKissack to maintain a consistently high level of performance and the delivery of projects within the parameters of time, budget, and quality.
The family-owned and operated business “dates back more than two centuries to a Tennessee slave named Moses,” the outlet writes.
In 1905, McKissack Daniel’s grandfather Moses McKissack, a former slave, founded the family business after learning the trade of making bricks. Since then, they built different buildings, homes, hospitals, including the Tuskegee Air Force Base where Black pilots trained to desegregate World War II.
Her father, William DeBerry McKissack, took over the business in 1968 and that was when she started knowing about how the business goes.
“We would go to work with him every Saturday starting at ten years old, walking construction sites, tracing documents, you know, learning about building systems early in life. It was all ingrained in us,” McKissack Daniel told CBS News.
After her father suffered from a stroke in 1982, her mother, Leatrice B. McKissack, stepped in and managed to grow the business even more despite having no training in architecture. Some of the remarkable projects under her helm is the $50 million complex at Howard University and a building at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
In 2000, McKissack Daniel, who earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Civil Engineering from Howard University, took over the business and moved the headquarters from Nashville to New York. With her leadership, their construction and design firm has been making a mark on some of the major landmarks in the nation.
McKissack Daniel credits the company’s success, even in New York where it is now headquartered, to affirmative action. She said, “People do business with people who look like them. All the work that we’ve done outside of New York, it didn’t matter in New York.”
She said she always makes it a point to prioritize hiring minorities for her company. 61% of her employees are minorities and 34% are women. She also developed a job training workforce program to those who they couldn’t hire any more.
Moreover, McKissack Daniel hopes that her story would be able to inspire other women of color “that the construction industry can build wealth” and that it can look like them.
Growing up in a family of architects and engineers, Cheryl McKissack Daniel studied to be an engineer, continuing a family tradition dating back to when her great-great-grandfather first learned the construction trade as a slave. McKissack Daniel is the third generation to lead the family business.
“It’s a great American story from the standpoint of, I have ancestors … I have pictures of them who were slaves,” she says. “And to overcome that in five generations to run a very successful business is very significant to me.”
After years in the industry, McKissack Daniel still looks for ways to expand the business, never afraid to dive headfirst into something new.
“I thought to myself, either we can say we’re not qualified and we can’t do it,” McKissack Daniel says, recalling how staggered she felt when she first received rail plans related to the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, a major contract for her firm. “Or I could go ahead and figure out how to get this done.”
Black Westchester salutes From Slave Labor to Thriving Business, Cheryl McKissack Daniel and her Black-Woman Owned Architect and Engineer Company Is Breaking New Ground.
For more information about McKissack & McKissack Construction Firm, visit www.mckissack.com