Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Deryl McKissack, C.E.O. of McKissack & McKissack. To read the complete interview, check out other articles, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
Photo credit: Earl Wilson/The New York Times
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What were your early years like?
I grew up in Nashville. I came from a family of entrepreneurs. My great-great grandfather was a slave, and he was a builder as a slave, and passed the trade of building down to my great-grandfather, who passed it to my grandfather.
My grandfather and his brother started our family business in Tennessee in 1905, making us the oldest African-American architectural firm in the country. They designed and built a lot of historically black colleges and universities, and then they passed the business to my father.
I started working for my father when I was around 6. By the time my twin sister and I were about 13, he was using our architectural drawings, and we were getting paid for the work — 25 cents an hour.
How have your parents influenced your leadership style today?
My mom was very influential because she always said: “Whatever you want to do, you can do. And being a female, you can do it even better.” My father was wonderful, and he helped me succeed in this industry by teaching me male perspectives and approaches to situations. He bought trains, planes and cars for me instead of dolls.
But he could also be a chauvinist, and would sometimes say to his three daughters, “You all should go to school and marry someone to come run our business.”
My mom’s a Southern belle, and she used to cook a gourmet meal when my dad would bring his clients over for dinner. His clients loved her. So when he had a stroke, she took over the business. It was easy for her to do that because the clients knew her. She was feeding them every day.
I was about to go get my M.B.A., but I went home to help run the business for a while with my mom. Then I started my own company when I was 29. Once I had my business plan, there were about 300 people I needed to call to tell them about what I was doing. By the time I called 150 of those people, I had so much work I never got to the other 150.
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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times’ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews of hundreds of business leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.