From Just $1000, Deryl McKissack Created a Solid Business Making $25 Million Annually

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Deryl McKissack’s career represents the culmination of efforts spanning five generations. At 62 years old, she holds the position of president and CEO at McKissack & McKissack, a Washington, D.C.-based construction management and design firm renowned for its involvement in constructing iconic buildings. These include the Smithsonian African American Museum of History and Culture and the restoration of the Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson memorials.

The firm’s legacy traces back to Deryl’s great-great grandfather, Moses, who arrived in the United States as a slave in 1790. A skilled brick maker, Moses passed down his expertise through generations. This legacy eventually led to the establishment of a construction company in Tennessee by two of Moses’s grandsons, also named McKissack & McKissack.

That company remains in the family, now based in New York and run by McKissack’s twin sister Cheryl. “My father always took us [to] job sites, took us to the office. We talked about it around the table,” says McKissack. “It was always a very integral part of our family.”

Driven by a determination to forge her path and increase the representation of Black women CEOs in the construction sector, McKissack took a bold step by withdrawing $1,000 from her savings account to establish her company in 1990. Fast forward to today, the company’s annual revenue ranges between $25 million and $30 million, as per documents examined by CNBC Make It. With offices in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Baltimore, McKissack & McKissack now oversees projects totalling $15 billion.

“I remember in college, there were probably three women in my class, and my twin sister was one of them. So it’s very rare that women are in this industry, but we’re excelling,” McKissack says.

McKissack made the bold decision to leave her engineering job, which boasted a six-figure salary, in order to launch her own company. Despite possessing a civil engineering degree from Howard University and relevant work experience, she quickly discovered the challenges of attracting clients.

Armed with an old projector, McKissack showcased slides of projects she had completed for family members to drum up business. Additionally, she placed a job advertisement in the Washington Post and hired an employee.

Reflecting on the early days, McKissack recalls the struggles she faced due to a lack of support from banks. “It was touch and go because I didn’t have a bank that believed in me,” she explains. “It took me five years to secure my first $10,000 line of credit. I probably approached 11 banks that turned me away… [but] I had this burning passion inside me, driving me to pursue this venture, and I was determined that it would eventually succeed.”

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