Legacy building is a transformational act that profoundly impacts generations. This concept is one that is innately important to the Black community. To alter the trajectory of Black futures through the dedication of the work done daily to uplift is noble and necessary.
Black owned and women led architecture and construction firm McKissack and McKissack is familiar with this journey through and through. For five generations, the company has maintained their family’s rich legacy while building one of the most prominent businesses in the world. Albert Odjidja, one of the firm’s most talented voices, has continued in this mission for almost twenty years. During his tenure at the legacy firm,
Odjidja spoke with EBONY with how he consistently sparks opportunities for growth through his efforts at McKissack & McKissack.
How did your life's journey lead to the McKissack Group?
I was born in Ghana, West Africa and had a knack for breaking things down. I even had a nickname which meant "to destroy" because I was always pulling things apart and figuring out how things come together. This has always been a passion of mine. One of my favorite books growing up was the Guinness Book of World Records. What was most fascinating to me was looking at tall buildings and all the wonders of the world such as the Pyramids of Giza and the Empire State Building. I did not know what architectural construction was at the time but I knew that I wanted to learn more.I came to the US when I was about 13 and a half, attended high school and went on to graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park. I started working while still at College Park in a construction management firm and I had the opportunity to learn about being a construction manager. That's where my interest was piqued.
Later, after being encouraged to follow a career in construction,I stayed with the firm after graduation. With them, I learned a lot about complex projects and the importance of being creative. I was lucky enough to be assigned to some of the biggest projects that they had at the time such as the Washington Commanders' stadium and the Sallie Mae headquarters. All of my life's experiences led me to McKissack which has been my home for 17 years now. I feel blessed to be in the position that I am in and be able to be so heavily involved with different units across the company.
How do you go about aligning with new business opportunities and projects? What must be present in order for you to sign on?
I believe that regardless of what the task is, we can do it. It is only a matter of how to achieve it. There's no idea that is too outlandish and I use this thinking for all of my projects.
It's all about being able to express creativity through a variety of mediums. When approaching a project, there are so many ways to be solution oriented through looking at it with a creative problem solving mindset. I aim to figure out all types of ways to maximize opportunities. Additionally, I have found that I thrive when I am able to think outside of the box and still deliver a meaningful end product for a client. Because of McKissack's creative strategy, we have had major opportunities to get that work that many other minority run or smaller firms would not get the chance to. So we ultimately pride ourselves in innovating creatively which largely leads to positive success.
As a leader in a predominately white industry, how do you draw strength from your identity?
For the longest time, construction has absolutely been a white male dominated space. The challenges that I experienced are also faced by women and other minorities. In a sense, we have to do more and go above and beyond to prove that we can do the same type of work. I was lucky enough that with my experience, I had the total confidence to say that I know I can do this work and I can even do it better than some of my counterparts. There isn't a project that I cannot put my mind to and execute. I simply need access to the room and can move forward from there. However, the more jobs you do, the more you have opportunities to network. It's always a challenge getting African Americans into this industry but I take great joy and responsibility in being able to create outlets of opportunity in this way.
Outside of your day to day work, what projects are you invested in that serve the community?
McKissack is involved in many organizations that impact the community. For example, we are aligned with ACE Mentorship which does outreach to high school students to help them navigate career fields that they take an interest in. Being able to work with so many organizations does not only allow us to show leadership, but to be recognized and be a beacon for what achievement in this field in which we are severely underrepresented.