Member Spotlight on Suzanne Shields: A Mother and Daughter Story

When Suzanne Shields got into the bid and proposal industry 20 years ago, she never expected that her daughter would follow in her footsteps years later. But now, mother and daughter are both working in the industry, sharing tips and learning lessons from each other about how the other generation approaches the same career.

We sat down with Suzanne to chat to her about her experiences of working in the same industry as her daughter and what she’s learned from her front-row access to the mindset of the industry’s next generation.

To start us off, would you mind giving me some background about yourself and your career?

I currently work for a US company and have been with them now for 12 years. I was originally working as a Bid Director for their large deals, and my specialty at that stage was to see deals work through to contract award.

I then moved into the Global Sales Transformation Program. From there, I picked up running the Sales CRM system and processes. I eventually moved into the education side and became a certified sales coach, so I teach sellers how to use all the best practices and increase their chances of being successful and provide deal coaching.

I’ve been in bids since 2004. I always view this career like ‘Marmite’ (a UK yeast-based spread) because you either love it or you hate it. And I love it. I can use all the skills I’ve gained from working in the customer side in a bank for 20 years before I got into the industry.  I get to utilise other skills, like project management, problem solving and lobbying, and I really enjoy using those skills.

Can you tell me a bit about your relationship with APMP?

When I first moved into bids, I kept thinking that there had to be a better way of doing what I was doing, and that’s when I came across APMP. It really resonated with me, and so I went to one of the early UK chapter conferences and felt that it connected with where I was and where I was going. It made so much sense to me. I became a member in 2008 and I took the foundation exam. I’ve now also done the practitioner and professional certifications, and the executive summary micro-certification, and now I’m currently studying to do the capture practitioner certification too. I am trying to work through them because it really helps to maintain the ethos of continuous learning.

In 2022, I took on the role of the Chief Professional Progression Officer for the UK Chapter of APMP. I work with certifications from the chapter perspective, and I am dealing with apprenticeships too. Now, I’m looking at the Intentional Career Path concept that is operating in the US at the moment, and building that out within the UK. I have a group of fantastic volunteers and we are looking at the ICP through the lenses of educational, employment, and government, with a goal to help get other people into this profession. It’s a really great career, and most people kind of fall into it, so it’s a goal of my role to help it become more visible as a career destination.

It’s interesting that you mention making the career path more visible to people, as that ties into the story of your daughter who is also in bids and proposals! Can you tell me a bit about her journey into the profession?

Hers is an interesting route. When she was at school, she had decided that the typical university route was not for her and that she wanted to be a chef. So, she went off to train and became a professional chef and finally an artisan baker. She had a career in the food arts for about five years, and then realized that, while that career is great when you’re a young person, it begins to get more physically taxing and unsociable as you get a bit older, as you have to work long hours through the night.

So, she went to university and moved into the events industry after her degree as an account manager, and worked there until COVID hit. Then, of course, the industry vanished overnight, and she started thinking about what to do next. But she’s a very good writer, and began interning with an online law firm, writing articles about up-and-coming trends for the lawyers.

I ended up mentioning to her that her skills would translate into bidding very well, and she was interested in the idea. I proposed to her that she get a feel for it first and take the APMP foundation exam. She passed that, and then got her first bid writer job. She loved it because it used all the skills that she had built throughout her career so far: the attention-to-detail, the business writing, producing something that she wants to be consumed and enjoyed. After she had done bid writing for a while, she got head hunted into a bid manager job, where she is today.

How do you feel about having your daughter follow in your footsteps?

For me, it’s really cool because I never envisaged that my children would come into my profession. When my daughter was much younger, I had one of those ‘bring your daughter to work’ days. I was in an office where I happened to be the office fire marshal, and I had my fire marshal jacket and my hard hat on my desk when she came in. After the day, I asked her what she thought I did, and she said I was a firewoman! I always found it very difficult to explain what I did.

And then, of course, when my daughters grew up, they both ended up in different careers, but COVID just ended up being some sort of catalyst.

Do you notice any generational differences in the way you both approach your careers in the industry?

Well, for a start, my daughter works in the nonprofit sector, and I work in the private sector. She works with social housing and uses her skills to help bring homelessness to an end. My daughter’s generation is more ethically minded, in the sense that it’s more important to them to have a social purpose and meaning behind how they’re using their skills. And there’s so many ways you can do that within this industry.

I also think one thing she’s very adamant about is her work-life balance, which I think is more common in younger generations. She is very passionate about forward-planning, so she avoids weekend working wherever possible. Obviously, emergencies can happen, but she’s very set on not planning weekend working into her bid cycles and focusing on delivering early, so she is not running around at the last minute, tying up loose ends. I think there’s more of a consciousness of that work-life balance and a willingness to say “no” when something avoidably conflicts with it. We are getting much better at it in my generation as time goes on, but it comes so naturally to younger generations. I think it’s good because they are going in with the right attitude to avoid burnout.

Also, in my generation, it is much more common to get into a job for life. I have only worked at four companies in my whole 40-year career so far, but my daughters have already worked at more organizations than that in their shorter career span. They don’t have as much of a fear of changing jobs, and they are more willing to switch if a company is not meeting their needs or a job is not making them happy.

This is a good way forward. This profession is so enjoyable and consuming, but that means it is quite easy to let your life be consumed by it if you’re not careful. Having the ability to step back and have that reality check moment of “this isn’t right” is a valuable tool that younger generations are good at using to safeguard their wellbeing.

So, would you say that your different approaches and experience mean you can both learn from each other?

Yes definitely! I have loved her attitude going into it. I don’t want her to fall into the patterns that were common in the industry when I started because I don’t think it was as healthy back then as it is now. There is a science behind this profession, rooted in the best practices, that tells you the sequence of events and how to put that into a timeline accordingly, so you deliver something of quality without burning everyone out. And I’ve adopted that same discipline and mantra of “we will not be working these crazy hours”.

She has also been able to learn from my experiences and it’s helped her to push back when she needs to. I’ve talked to her about experiences I had earlier in my career where we knew we had low odds of success but had to work hard and keep the team motivated throughout despite knowing we were not likely to win it, which is very difficult to do.

I think knowing about those experiences of mine has helped her in having those tougher conversations. She’s far more equipped than I was when I first started to question deals during qualification to make sure her team is not burning the midnight oil for a deal that they have a very low chance of winning.

It works because, even though we can’t discuss all the finer points of our bids, we can both discuss when something does not feel right because of our shared experiences.

Have you attended any events together as a bid and proposal legacy family? How did you both experience that?

We both went to ‘BIDx The Big One’ recently. Because I am part of the board, I was supporting the running of the event and acting as a moderator in rooms where there were community speakers. My experience was full-on because I was running around behind the scenes.

Because my daughter is in a nonprofit, she did not have the same kind of professional development budget to lean on to go to events like this, even though her management would have loved her to go. But one of the ATOs, put out a competition for people working for nonprofits to be hosted and she ended up winning a ticket through that.

Both she and her boss were ecstatic that she had the opportunity to go, and she went with a list of things she wanted to check out, so she had value to take back both for herself and for her company.

While she was there, she made a lot of connections for her network with people in related industries and she came away with so many ideas. She went to all the community sessions and heard different speakers and she saw so much value in it. She is now planning to take all these lessons she is learned back to her company to present and apply them to the company’s practices.

I have been to so many conferences, and I am on the board now, so I feel like I’m biased in my appreciation for them. So, it was nice to hear my daughter give her feedback and tell me how glad she was that she went and how worthwhile she felt the investment of her time was. She said she got so much from it, in terms of ideas and networking, so that was really validating.

Do you think there’s value in highlighting legacy stories like yours within the industry?

Oh yes. I’ve met a couple of legacy families now: a father and son and a pair of sisters. There are more legacy stories out there, and it shows that we have hit that level of maturity where it really feels like a legitimate career path. It has always been a difficult profession to describe, but I think as awareness grows, you have more young people looking at older family members in the industry and thinking: “I can do what they’re doing!”

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