TPC Alumni, Computer Software/Hardware, Manufacturing/Industry
By Jessica Smith
J.P. Kavanagh has always liked English, specifically writing. His freshman English professor at Ferris suggested he check out the Technical and Professional Communication (TPC) program. J.P. said he was very impressed with Sandy and was sold on the program “straightaway.”
His sister and brother-in-law are both journalists, so he “bounces” a lot of ideas off them. Graduating from Ferris State University in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in Technical & Professional Communication, J.P. gained experience through an internship during his junior year at a campus job creating a student user manual for the computer labs.
J.P. said he learned a lot, but doesn’t think the manual was ever put to use. He mentioned it came in handy during his first job interview, and it sure has as he writes sales proposals.
Prior to graduation, J.P. was hired at Provia Software, located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was hired to write and edit software-training manuals. “During the fallout of the ‘dot.com’ boom, I was laid off in late 2001,” he said.
Afterwards, he worked as a true tech writer for a company called Imperial Design. He wrote and edited manuals of “all sorts,” from assembly-line robotics maintenance manuals to vacuum furnace safety manuals.
In late 2002, Provia wanted to re-hire J.P., but this time for a different role. He said they needed a proposal manager, and his experience and credentials made him the perfect candidate for the position. “I never really liked the technical part of the tech writing job,” said J.P.
He left Imperial Design and went back to Provia to work in the sales and marketing department. In 2005, Provia was sold to a company called SSA; six months later SSA was sold to a company called Infor. J.P. has held the same position at all three companies and “continues to coordinate sales proposals to this day,” he said.
Most people mention they wish they had done something differently with their career. Not J.P., though. “I’m very fortunate,” he said of his career. J.P. also said he probably got lucky as well.
He would like to get his MBA at some point, but that’s about it. As for technology’s role, J.P. said technology has affected his career “tremendously.” Internal networking sites have made communicating with team members much more efficient. He said his company relies heavily on intranets to complete projects, and proposal submittal is often done by uploading responses to an Internet site.
“Obviously, having a deep knowledge of Microsoft Office, especially Microsoft Word, is a must. Since I write sales proposals for a giant software company, I got to say I’m a big fan of technology,” said J.P.
As J.P. has been laid off once, and seeing many of his friends and coworkers get laid off after each acquisition, he said he’s learned that it’s more important than ever not only to be good at your job, but to be good at others jobs as well.
“Make yourself indispensable and ‘cost effective’ to the company and you’ll be fine,” he said. J.P. mentioned having a TPC degree from Ferris is a great asset. “If I were laid off tomorrow, I’d be very confident that I’d find another job I liked in no time,” J.P. said. He added, “Although I’d rather not test that theory in real life.”
What J.P. does in his job consists of working as a team composed of proposal managers. There are four proposal managers in his company of more than 8,000 total employees. Their role is to streamline the RFP (Request for Proposal) response process and to create a high-quality effective sales document while adhering to a prospect’s guidelines and deadlines.
The Proposal Manager’s tasks include, but are not limited to, facilitating RFx (Request for proposals, quotes of information), kickoff meetings, answering corporate overview, technology, PSO and support RFx questions, compiling individual responses into final response document, general formatting/editing/writing of sales documents, production of printed/bound response documents, coordinating and facilitating contributions, managing deadlines, and identifying appropriate resources and submitting an RFx response and proposal to a prospective customer.
Typically, J.P. said his job is “more or less 24/7.” On average, he has two RFP response deadlines per week. Each response ranges from 30-300 pages long, so his daily schedule varies.
Typically, J.P. does some or all of the mentioned tasks each day. “Some days, though, there’s nothing on my plate,” he mentioned. During that time, he catches up on email and other life items such as shopping, oil changes, recreation, etc.
J.P. said he is expected to return emails at all hours and work however long is needed to make the deadline. He has a very flexable schedule. “While it’s not fun answering some salesperson’s question at 9 p.m. every once in awhile, it’s a small price to pay to have the freedom to set your own schedule and work from home, or coffee shop, or beach, or wherever there’s wireless,” said J.P.
Deadlines are the most pivotal part of J.P.’s day. “If we miss a response deadline, we’re out of the deal. If we’re out of the deal, the company doesn’t get paid. If the company doesn’t get paid, I don’t get paid,” he said.
For him, the toughest part of making these deadlines is coordinating a team of 4-6 business consultants and salespersons. His making of the project deadline is very much dependent on his team members making their internal deadlines.
J.P. said he has to stay on top of each team for each response project to ensure they don’t only make a deadline, but that they produce a high-quality, effective selling document. J.P. rarely communicates with his clients, other than email to submit an RFP response, which is the salesperson’s job. In a sense, he said, his client is the salesperson, whom he communicates with on daily basis, both through email and by phone. In general, his clients are the account executives/salespersons. J.P. relies on a large team to make the deadlines. Team members and typical roles consist of Account Executive (AE), Professional Services Organization Representative (PSO Rep), Business Solutions Consultant (BSC), and Proposal Manager (PM).
For J.P., his job is an adventure every day. As for advice, “you’ve got to be unflappable. If you’re easily stressed by managing several projects at once (or juggling several sharp objects), this gig isn’t for you,” he said.
“Is it stressful? Absolutely,” J.P. mentioned. However, he said that within the controlled chaos, there is strange sense of calm, and a very real sense of accomplishment. “The money’s not too bad either,” J.P. said.