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The Next Level: Spotlight on Entrepreneurs
by Frank McCoy
Deryl McKissack, and Cheryl McKissack, punctuate conver- struction engineering, scheduling, and budgeting while being
sations with identical laughs. The twin sisters, both 1983 civil “groomed as the first female, and black, vice president.” Turn-
engineering graduates of Howard University and fifth-genera- er’s only error was sending her to Howard University to win
tion scions of one of the nation’s oldest black-owned architec- a construction job. Howard president James Cheek promptly
tural firms, leaven work with joy. The multi-million dollar fees hired her to manage a more than $200 million capital budget
their financially separate and independent firms earn also keep for three campuses, 133 buildings and 900 employees.
them smiling.
In 1990, Deryl founded McKissack & McKissack, of
In 1905, Moses McKissack III, the twins’ grandfather, Washington, with a $1,000 and a fax
whose ancestors had been builders, founded McKissack & Mc- machine. Since then, the now 135-employee full service archi-
Kissack in Nashville. He ran the firm for nearly half a century tecture, environmental engineering and program management
and was one of Tennessee’s first registered architects. His son, firm headquartered in Washington, DC has completed more
William, was at the helm until he suffered a stroke the week- than 500 projects. It averages about $23 million in annual rev-
end the twins received their undergraduate degrees. William’s enues and has offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami. It is
wife, Leatrice McKissack, a Fisk University math graduate, the lead program manager — controlling the day-to-day opera-
took over the family firm and later asked the twins to join her. tions — and the architect of record for the Martin Luther King
Neither did initially. Jr. National Memorial, in the nation’s capital. Other projects
include serving as joint venture program manager for District
Cheryl stayed on at Howard to earn a master’s degree in
of Columbia’s $3.5 billion planned renovation and construction
civil engineering. She went on to work for a company that built
program for the public schools, and program schedule manager
missile silos, before joining Turner Construction. In 1991, she
for Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport Expansion. Deryl is
moved to New York City and opened the McKissack Group. A
now enthused about Los Angeles, which has more than $200
few years later, she bought her mother’s majority share in the
billion worth of public construction in the planning stage. “I
business. The McKisssack Group, also known as McKissack &
am very excited by the challenge of getting projects in a new
McKissack, is a leading construction and
location,” she says.
project management company, with annual revenues around
$13 million. Since 1905, the family business has completed The sisters, whose firms have a wealth of public, private
more than 6,000 projects. Currently Cheryl’s firm is a major- and non-profit experience, are also positioned for opportuni-
ity joint venture partner providing independent engineering ties in the Obama administration’s infrastructure-oriented
consulting services for the New York Metropolitan Transporta- stimulus package. The two CEOs are used to being project,
tion Authority’s $21 billion Capital Improvement Program. The program, and/or construction managers, and joint venture
firm also provided management services for the $1.5 billion partners of large jobs that take years to grow from an idea
Philadelphia Schools Capital Improvement Plan, and is a major- to being shovel ready.
ity sub-consultant providing construction management services
The twins haven’t joint ventured directly yet, but each
for the pre-construction of the $1.5 billion Columbia University
says she looks forward to working together. Because while
the sisters’ firms are independent of one another, they are not.
After graduation, Deryl McKissack joined Dames & Moore “We talk every day and have this whole twin world going on,”
Group, a civil engineering company, and spent five years at says Cheryl.
Turner Construction. There, McKissack says she learned con- USBE & Information Technology I DEANS Edition 2009 63
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