David Rubenstein Interviews Deryl McKissack on her Namesake

|Sep 17|magazine12 min read

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- To mark the 30th anniversary of architecture, engineering and construction services (AEC) firm McKissack & McKissack, David Rubenstein will interview founder and CEO Deryl McKissack on Friday, September 25. The interview will cover McKissack's trailblazing work on high-profile projects in a field challenged by diversity and inclusion. Ironically, this achievement comes at a time when Black-owned businesses have been failing twice as fast as other companies.

Rubenstein, an entrepreneur-turned-author, has spoken with the world's highest performing leaders for his namesake TV show on Bloomberg and PBS, and his new book, "How To Lead:  Wisdom from the World's Greatest CEOs, Founders, and Game Changers."  He is skilled at drawing extraordinary stories out of pioneering agents of change—and McKissack has extraordinary stories to tell.

When McKissack started her company, she had $1,000 in savings, a business plan she wrote herself and a list of 300 prospects to cold call.  Yet in truth, founding an AEC firm was in her blood. Her inspiration came from the contracting company started by her great-great-grandfather, a freed slave.  It was sustained and broadened to include architecture and engineering services by her grandfather, Tennessee's first licensed Black architect, and later her father.

As a civil engineer by training, McKissack has shattered glass ceilings time and again as she has led one of the nation's largest and oldest MWBE-certified AEC firms. Most recently, she developed a poignant call to action for the AEC industry with her own 7-step plan to combat its systemic racism.

Since its inception three decades ago, McKissack & McKissack has grown from a one-person firm to a national force with 140 employees in six offices around the country. More significantly, it has become particularly well- known for its work on transformative landmark construction projects. The McKissack portfolio includes the Obama Presidential Center, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the George H.W. Bush Library Foundation and the Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr. memorials—structures that help Americans and all visitors to the nation see how history and civic engagement impacts the nation. 

The firm is also known for school projects, with designs that spur learning, foster community and increase safety for students across the country.  The McKissack & McKissack brand has become synonymous with projects that foster the "live-work-play" ethos, yet make communities more connected and resilient.  

Yet McKissack's success has been hard-won.  "AEC was a homogenous industry when I started McKissack & McKissack. It was hard for minorities, let alone a Black woman, to be heard as a member of someone else's staff.  So when I decided to go out on my own, I had to figure out how to get in the room, meet potential clients and establish strong relationships that would lead to new business opportunities because people usually hire who they know," McKissack notes.

While the AEC industry still has far to go—U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that Blacks are profoundly underrepresented in architecture, engineering and construction—McKissack has used her focus and drive to build a firm that represents her views on diversity and inclusion.  "We're like a mini-United Nations.  Our potlucks have food from a couple dozen nations. And no doors are ever closed at McKissack & McKissack because of race, gender, ethnicity or orientation. Everyone gets heard," she says.

To attract talent, McKissack went after the best commissions she could find. "People want to work on projects that are interesting and meaningful, so that's what I lined up.  People came because the work we were winning was exciting and consequential," she says.

In fact, McKissack's contagious passion for the field and unrelenting persistence have helped her draw top-notch professionals to her team. That talent has been responsible for creating groundbreaking infrastructure, cultural and civic projects. McKissack's work keeps power plants and water facilities running at peak efficiency; speeds commutes by land and air; tends to the healthcare needs of underserved populations; and make sports, entertainment and educational venues memorable.

"We've been delivering exacting, rigorously executed work on high-stakes, complicated projects –on time and on budget—since 1990, and that's no small feat since there was no one to turn to for advice and guidance when we started out," McKissack observes.

ABOUT MCKISSACK & MCKISSACK:  McKissack & McKissack is a national architecture, engineering, program- and construction-management firm with more than 30 years of experience working with clients to envision and deliver building and infrastructure projects that enrich people's lives and empower communities to flourish.  Based in Washington, D.C. and with offices in Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles, the firm is ranked by Engineering News-Record as one of the top 50 Top Construction Management For-Fee firms and one of the 50 Top Program Management Firms in the nation and by the Washington Business Journal as one of the top 25 design firms in the metropolitan Washington area.

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