MPM Experience Helped Alum Navigate Multiple Crises

Jose Duarte (MPM '01) shares how MPM prepared him to withstand the Great Recession and COVID-19 global pandemic.

Jose Duarte (MPM '01) founded Blackwood Group, a Chicago-based general contracting, design, and development business in 2007. Months later, he was confronted with a global financial crisis that could have easily halted the company's growth while still in its infancy.

But Duarte helped the company shift its business strategy from expansion to survival, and this pivot helped Blackwood Group withstand the Great Recession and the slow regrowth of the construction sector. This effectively saved his business, and it was a move Duarte credits to his experience in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Project Management (MPM) program.

"For me, MPM was a transformational program that allowed me to shift tracks from being an engineer and designer to becoming a construction and program management professional," said Duarte, principal at Blackwood Group.

MPM taught him all about the multifaceted components of the construction industry and gave him a high-level understanding of how developers, financiers, investors, designers, engineers, constructors, community groups, and end-users come together on any given project. Learning the ins-and-outs of managing projects and overseeing challenges prepared Duarte to navigate his company's turbulent start.

“I believe that Blackwood’s key to survival was our ability to quickly adapt to the challenging and limited marketplace of opportunities by staying close to our invaluable, loyal client base and referral network, and applying every learned skill set from MPM,” Duarte said.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Duarte to help Blackwood Group navigate an unstable economic environment. And again, he turned to lessons learned in MPM. Now Blackwood Group has a strong backlog and pipeline of work for the short- and mid-term as it waits for the economy and work schedule to return to what it was pre-pandemic. 

Duarte, a lifelong Chicagoan who also serves on the city’s Building Board of Appeals, said he feels fortunate to have attended MPM. He took advantage of the program's part-time option so that he could work and go to school at the same time.

“The MPM program is a high-caliber, high-performance, and deeply impactful program that will change one’s career path,” Duarte said. “The MPM program elevates a learner’s credentials that are highly sought in the construction marketplace. It certainly changed my professional trajectory and taught me the tools and skill sets needed to pursue my entrepreneurial ambitions with confidence.”

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