The nation’s oldest Black-owned and female-run construction company is busier than ever these days as the go-to firm for many of New York City’s most ambitious renovation projects.
In fact, the company is behind one of the city’s biggest efforts to date.
According to CBS News, McKissack & McKissack is assigned “to just about every major infrastructure improvement project financed by the city and state,” including a current renovation project at LaGuardia Airport and the new Terminal One at John F. Kennedy Airport, both in Queens.
Cheryl McKissack Daniel serves as president and CEO of the historic firm and is no stranger to the male-dominated world of construction. Sporting a hard hat and pair of pumps, she’s a hands-on leader who credits hard work and persistence with keeping her company a step above the competition.
“[It] takes relationships and getting people to realize that you bring value to the table something unique and different,” McKissack Daniel told the outlet.
The CEO already has her hands full with a number of projects ranging from a new park in downtown Brooklyn to ensuring the city’s trains are running on schedule. Her firm has also been tapped to revive Long Island’s railroad hub, which runs underneath the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
As head of the nation’s oldest Black-owned construction firm, McKissack Daniel has helped grow and transform the business her family truly built from the ground up. The family-owned and operated company dates back more than two centuries to an enslaved Tennessee man named Moses, she told CBS News.
Moses McKissick, Daniel McKissick’s great-grandfather, laid the foundation for the business after he learned the trade of brick-making from his Scottish master. He then passed down that trade to her grandfather and great-uncle, who incorporated the business in 1905.
The pair would go on to build homes, hospitals, and colleges over the next 60 years, including the Tuskegee Air Force base where African-American pilots trained for World War II.
McKissack Daniel’s father, William, took reins of the business in 1968.
“We would go to work with him every Saturday starting at 10 years old, walking construction sites, tracing documents, you know, learning about building systems early in life,” she recalled. “It was all ingrained in us.”
Her father suffered a stroke in 1982, prompting her mother, Leatrice B. McKissack to step in.
Despite having no experience in architecture, McKissack Daniel said her mother, a former schoolteacher, took the family business to new heights. Some of her notable projects included the $50 million complex at Howard University and a building at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.
McKissack Daniel took over the business in 2000, after which she moved the company’s headquarters from Nashville to New York City, where she sought to invest in the communities she serves. Her firm also boasts a diverse staff, with 61 percent of her hires being racial minorities. Women comprise 34 percent of company employees.
“People do business with people who look like them.” she told CBS News. “All the work that we’ve done outside of New York, it didn’t matter in New York.”
Through her work, McKissack Daniel said she hopes to show Black women that “the construction industry can build wealth” and can be led by folks who look just like them.
A 2018 report commissioned by American Express found that the number of firms owned and operated by Black women grew a stunning 126 percent between 2007 and 2018. That year, there were an estimated 2.4 million African-American women-owned business across the nation.