Member Spotlight on: Neal Levene – Talking Bids and Proposals at the Dinner Table

Neal Levene, CPP APMP, is a Senior Consultant with extensive experience in the business development lifecycle. Having worked in the bid and proposal space since the beginning of his career, Neal’s passion for this industry has not only led to his own professional success, but has also inspired his daughter to follow in his bidding footsteps!

Now, the two work alongside one another on the board of APMP’s National Capital Area chapter. Ahead of Father’s Day (16 June), we’re celebrating Neal’s story as a bid and proposal dad. APMP wishes a Happy Father’s Day to Neal and all of the dads in our community!

Would you just mind giving me some background about yourself and your professional career thus far?

I graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a business and technology degree. When I got out of school and was in my first job, someone asked me if I’d work on a proposal. Honestly, if they’d asked me to pick rocks out of the tires of their car, I’d have done it! I was at a point in my career where I’d do whatever they wanted me to do.

I was in the war room with all of the executives, and I was right out of school, so it was as very exciting. I got free pizza, and I was just doing résumés. We won it, and I got a bonus of $1000 or something like that. To me, that was like all the money in the world – it felt like being invited into Scrooge McDuck’s vault! I just thought, ‘these proposals are fantastic’ and I was hooked from then.

And so throughout my entire career, I was always doing proposals of some sort. I was the guy who didn’t say ‘no’ when you asked him to do a proposal. As I went from just being on a project to managing projects – then on to managing programs, having director roles, and ultimately owning a couple of companies – proposals became a greater and greater part of my career.

It happened accidentally, but proposals are just something that I truly love.

Can you give me some insight into your experience with APMP?

I got to the point of my career where I was lucky enough that I could pretty much do what I wanted to do for a bit. So, while I was figuring that out, I opened a sole practitioner proposal consulting firm. I was modeling my methodology after some of the graphical ideas that Mike Parkinson had, and he happened to be very active speaker in APMP.

I figured by joined APMP I’d be able to ‘professionally stalk’ him to hear some of his presentations and maybe get a chance to meet him. Upon joining I just got hooked on all the great information that was in APMP. I got to work very closely with Mike – and that was fantastic – but I also met all kinds of other people that had tremendous skills and ideas. The whole experience really enhanced my entire career.

I’ve been on the board of my local chapter for eight years in various roles and responsibilities. It’s really changed the direction of my own career and I have met so many incredible people that have changed my life, both personally and professionally.

I’m very lucky. I joined for one reason and got so much value for quite a different reason. It’s been fantastic!

How do you feel about your daughter following in your bid and proposal footsteps?

It’s both strange and nice. She has an interesting story too. She had thought that she was going to become a history professor and was out in Wisconsin pursuing that, and she decided that she definitely did not want to become a professor. So, she mastered out of her doctoral program.

My wife is a contract administrator, so she was familiar with our kind of business. Dinner table talk had always been proposals, and she’d always liked the research element of the business, the writing, and all of that. She was very tired of being a “poor grad student”, and this is something that she was familiar with and wanted to dip her toe into. She was able to get a job in the industry, and she’s doing very well now at the company that she’s at. She now has about three years of experience. She’s one of the rare people that didn’t end up here by accident!

How do you feel about serving in the chapter together?

It’s nice. She’s a hard worker; a very spirited person. It’s nice to have conversations about the industry with her. I like the mentoring role, and it’s a different way to have a father-daughter interaction because there’s just that other dimension. Every once in a while, when she runs into a problem, she’ll call and ask my advice, and I get to help out, and we talk it through, and so it’s nice. It’s nice to see her succeeding and being happy in a career field I have thoroughly enjoyed.

It’s great that she has her dad there to learn from. Do you think there’s anything you’ve learned from her?

Yes, without a doubt. They always say that whenever you teach someone you learn more yourself. That’s why I like doing so much mentoring because when you see how somebody’s approaching a topic with new eyes, you often end up saying, ‘Oh, I’ve never really thought about it that way.’ I definitely have learned how to systematize certain things.

Learning what the real questions are of somebody who’s new to approaching something gives you a better way to approach and teach things. All of that has been very helpful and interesting.

It’s also great to learn about generational communication differences. For example, I learned that when you text somebody with ellipses, someone from a younger generation interprets that as you treating them like they’re an idiot, whereas ellipses to me just mean ‘et cetera.’

So, I’m learning those kinds of things, which are important in proposals because you never know who you’re talking to. Communication is very hard. You have to think about generational and cultural differences – and there’s a lot you can learn when talking to other generations and cultures. It’s another dimension and you just have to be really aware of how you’re communicating – I’ve definitely learned more about that by working with my daughter.

Is there anything else you’d particularly like to share about your experiences in the industry by yourself?

The biggest thing I’ve learned in the industry is that a lot of what happens to you depends on your perspective and how you look at things. I’ve always seen proposal work as a field where you have a lot of control and can kind of set your own schedule. That’s why I encouraged my daughter to enter this field: It gives you so much flexibility.

I’ve always found it kind of low-stress, and that is not the description that you hear from a lot of other people! I think it’s because of how I look at things because I believe that the way you look at the world is the way that you experience the world.

When people say they feel they don’t have any control, they always feel stressed out, or they don’t have the ability to take a vacation. I always say, ‘Examine your view of the world and your beliefs’. I always encourage people to look at the rules that they’re making for themselves and make sure that they’re not creating boundaries that are unnecessarily restrictive.

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