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Monday, April 17, 2006

The Chemistry of a Bid Team

In Canada, executives wear more hats than their American counterparts. Due to the lower population density, headquarters staffs need to be more flexible. It is common to find managers assigned to specific zones with regional support staff in relation to the business level. These managers typically handle almost all tactical decisions. Corporate staff positions often involve dual responsibilities.

In the contract feeding business, the top regional executives are brought together with key HQ staff for major contract bids. In our group, we had a union contract specialist, a staffing wizard, a team of vendor negotiators, and our corporate chef. On remote site projects, our chef would determine the food cost per manday. This one number would normally determine the probability of winning the contract. There was always plenty of discussion and vendor analysis before this decision was intense.

Shortly after I was hired, I was honored with an invitation to join the bid team on a crucial project for our lower 48 division. There were people from Alaska, Vancouver, Edmonton, Denver and New York. This project required water treatment and we had a specialist from Toronto to handle this activity. As the junior member of the group, it was my job to extend manning charts and check all calculations. Two other people were available for similar work.

The team was housed in the Brown Palace Hotel in downtown Denver and we had most meals delivered to a dining area we setup in a suite. We had 5 days to digest project specifications, size up the competition, review notes from the orientation meeting, solicit quotes from dozens of local vendors, review contract menus, analyze housekeeping standards and forecast occupancy levels by season and construction phase.

We stayed up most nights until 2 AM. The night before bid submission, a group of presentation pros arrived and started merging the dog and pony with the financial data. Everyone stayed up all night the final night checking for typos.

During that hectic week in Denver, I saw the absolute meaning of a crisis. The winning bidder's staff would all get promotions and new responsibilities. Losing companies would regroup and hope for better luck in the future. For the locals, this bid meant their jobs were on the line.

Being part of a winning bid team is an exhilarating experience. For four of us, this project literally launched our careers with Sodexho.

There are very few people who are adept at both purchasing and production. Fewer still are pros at market timing and staff management. Even the tiny group with highly developed skills in timing, negotiation, forecasting, menu analysis, scheduling, management, and food production have a rough time trying all these activities at once.

Find out what you are best at and become a specialist in at least two areas. Make allies in your company and collaborate whenever possible. Team building is an inexact science. Timing is important.

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