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December 7, 2016

Q&A with Deryl McKissack: The Woman Behind McKissack & McKissack

Chicago Woman
“Behind every great man is a great woman,” right? Well, you might not know this, but behind many great buildings and landmarks is also…a great woman.
Meet the woman behind the O'Hare expansion and the Navy Pier Centennial Vision Redevelopment, Deryl McKissack-- chairman and CEO of McKissack & McKissack. The firm manages $10 billion in projects around the U.S. and has handled numerous national landmarks, including the new Museum of African American History and Culture. What have you learned with so many years in the business? Preparation is key. I have learned that it’s crucial to be prepared to fulfill my clients’ needs and to make sure I have the right people, with the expertise and management skills to successfully complete complex projects. This requires careful listening and excellent communication between staff, clients, and partners. I have learned that flexibility is crucial because a client’s requirements may change during the project cycle. Did you ever feel any inequality being a woman in the engineering/architectural field? Historically, this is a male-dominated business, and that’s no secret. The perception of women engineers, architects, and project managers has been changing, but there are still some obstacles for females. Preparation, determination and perseverance were core values in the McKissack family. When I decided to open McKissack & McKissack in Washington, D.C., in 1990 with less than $2,000, I knew that it would be a challenging feat to grow the business, but I never viewed it as daunting. There is a difference. My family history provided me with the foundation and inspiration to succeed. What advice would you give to girls aspiring to work in architecture and engineering? Don’t be afraid of math, science, and technology. These disciplines can be very challenging, but they are also enjoyable and fascinating because our society is dependent on the knowledge and discovery that is created through these courses of study. You may stumble along the way – we all do. Also – have a plan. When McKissack was chosen by the Smithsonian as the project management company for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, it was the culmination of a multi-year strategy to perform work on landmark projects on the National Mall. Finally, remember to thank those people who help you along the way. A simple “thank you” email or card goes a long way. What is your next project? Most notably, the MGM National Harbor will open on December 8th. We are the project management company for this $1 billion resort located just outside of Washington, DC. In the Chicago market, we are continuing our work on the McCormick Marriott Marquis, McCormick Event Center, Navy Pier Centennial Vision projects, and the O'Hare Airport Modernization Project.
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