Cidalia Luis-Akbar and Natalia Luis Sisters Break New Ground in Construction Business

From left, founders and daughters Albertina Luis, Natalia Luis, Manuel Luis and Cidalia Luis-Akbar


It’s not every girl’s dream to own an asphalt plant, but sisters Cidalia Luis-Akbar and Natalia Luis are no ordinary girls. They are co-owners of M Luis Construction, started by their parents, Albertina and Manual Luis, who emigrated from Portugal with their daughters in 1979. Cidalia says the business began with a Chevy pick-up truck and wheelbarrow. “And, we started bidding work, then getting small jurisdictional subcontracts, and growing from there.”

As teenagers, the girls accompanied their father to job sites and worked alongside their mother, the company bookkeeper and entrepreneur. Their parents never assumed their daughters would go into the family business, insisting only that the two go to college, which led Cidalia to study medieval languages and literature, and Natalia toward a degree in international business and marketing. Natalia remembers her first job offer with a fashion brand in New York. She says her parents immediately back-stopped the job offer. “Stay [in New York] for one year, and if you’re not happy, we’ll pack your bags and bring you back,” they told her.

When Natalia did return to Maryland, her sister had finished a master’s degree at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and was considering Ph.D. studies there. “I told her, [come home] I think we can make a go of this, but I don’t want to do it without you,” Natalia said.

Shortly, Cidalia closed the academic chapter of her life and drove cross country to join her sister at M Luis. Thinking back on that pivotal decision, Cidalia says, “For both of us, it was the impact we could make and the perspective we could bring. We could be successful in an unexpected world and industry [for women].”

Minority in the construction business

The sisters purchased M Luis in 2008. Today, as co-owners and co-CEOs, the company is among only a few woman-owned-and-operated manufacturers in this commercial space in the Delmarva region. Sure, they have experienced discrimination, but say they have made their mark by hiring a skilled and diverse staff committed to excellence. “For us, it’s all age brackets all ethnicities, and they know the expectation is that we are going to make it work,” Natalia said.

Today, from their headquarters in Silver Spring, M Luis operates two asphalt plants and two recycling plants in other Maryland locations that provide hot mix asphalt, recycled asphalt products, and the resale of aggregates, sand and liquid tack. “We do anything that needs to be restored within the public right of way, basically, from your lead walk to your neighbors, and across the street falls within our [scope],” Natalia said. “We [also] have projects that have underground infrastructure rehabilitation and crews that do streetscapes and brick work.

M Luis often runs multiple jobs simultaneously in various jurisdictions at different stages of completion. An accomplished multi-tasker, Natalia says it can get complicated coordinating all projects, moving staff and supplies when and where they are needed. “It’s [like] a chess game that impacts lives, that [each move] takes a lot of thought, because if we mess up, if we make the wrong decisions, people lose jobs, which means families see hardship,” she said.

Secret to success, family values

Their secret to success is each other. “We’re sort of yin and yang, two halves of an orange. We give one another the time and space to where we can understand where the other one is coming from,” Cidalia said, leaving, as their father taught them, their ego at the door.

The company culture they’ve built is one of social responsibility, that includes volunteering and providing in-kind services to non-profits. In 2021, M Luis Construction was recognized by Montgomery County as Business Volunteer of the Year for upgrading access to the Warrior Canine Connection Healing Center in Boyds.

Their intention is to leave the world a better place than they found it, a family value underpinning how they run the company. “It’s always about this is a company that takes care of [its] employees, and our job is to continue to be successful, so that everyone can fed their families, everyone has a roof over their head,” Cidalia said, her sister adding with a smile, “So, there is responsibility, and we can’t do good if we’re not making any money. So, let’s make some money, so we can do good in our community.”


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