The Art of Making Dealmakers

Business professor Bill Grimm learned how to negotiate during a 40-year career that took him from bartering in Mediterranean ports to brokering billion-dollar deals in Central Florida.

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

 

With degrees in engineering, business, and law; service as a Navy supply officer; and experience leading local tech companies and taking others public, Bill Grimm has learned a lot about the art of negotiation.

Often in surprising places.

From a Pakistani port, where he bartered for fresh fruit and vegetables for 330 crewmates on his naval destroyer, to the corporate bargaining table, where billion-dollar deals in high-tech were on the line, Grimm has drawn lessons from each transaction, large or small.

That practical knowledge forms the foundation for courses he teaches in key practices in negotiating as a professor at the Crummer Graduate School of Business. But it all began without the aid of books, blogs, or guides in what was essentially a sink-or-swim school for bartering on a naval destroyer.


Learning the Trade the Hard Way

In 1961, Grimm was a young mechanical engineer with a degree from Pennsylvania State University. He was making his way into his new career, when halfway around the world, East Germany suddenly erected its infamous Berlin Wall.

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook Overnight, international tensions rose. The Cold War heated up. Grimm’s employers offered to shield him from the expected military draft by moving him into a job considered essential for stable production on the home front. Grimm, however, opted to go into the service. By early 1962, he was in the Navy and on his way to duty as a supply officer for the USS Strong.

By October of that year, his destroyer was caught up in the naval blockade that helped end the Cuban missile crisis and a possible nuclear confrontation between the United States and the former U.S.S.R. Then the ship sailed eastward to patrol the Mediterranean Sea and Persian Gulf.

Even as a beginning mechanical engineer, Grimm had wanted to learn more about the sales side of business back in the states. Aboard the USS Strong, he got the kind of crash course that seems unheard of today.

At each port that the vessel docked, it fell to Grimm to buy fruit and vegetables, canned goods, and miscellaneous supplies for 330 sailors—enough to keep the ship’s pantry stocked for 90 days, in case they went on a long mission out to sea. With little or no knowledge of the various languages he encountered and no internet market guides for reference, he had to figure out how to negotiate prices in Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Spain, Bahrain, Italy, Cypress, and France. Eventually, he gained some expertise in the pricing that fluctuated from port to port and season to season. He learned to adjust his style of negotiating to fit the customs he encountered, as best as he could decipher them.

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook “You really have to understand the cultures,” Grimm says. “But we didn’t have much time.” One point that impressed him deeply, though, was something that was conveyed regardless of the setting and needed no translation: “Nobody wants to lose face.”

Fifty years later, he makes the same point to students in class and to business people in seminars.

“You’ve got to see the deal from other side’s point of view,” Grimm says. What do they want out of it? What is the range of a fair price? Ultimately, both sides want to gain something they can see as a win. Neither side wants to be embarrassed. Both sides have business reputations to protect. Both sides may want to do business with each other again.

Grimm teaches those same strategies to people whose salaries and careers may depend on the skills they acquire in his classes and seminars. He is especially concerned that women learn to step up and ask and not wait to be rewarded. “Women tend to think, ‘I’ll get what I deserve. I won’t ask.’” All his students study strategies, spar under his watchful eye, and prepare to put their knowledge into action

“He is a wonderful teacher, and I feel honored to have been part of his class,” Heidi Gallup ’14MBA says. “I even used what I learned to negotiate a great deal on my upcoming wedding.”

Gallup, who is working in marketing and business development for Criticom Monitoring Services, said that during the rush to get things taken care of, she was ready to accept offers just to check the task off her lists. “But I knew that by having a large wedding party that I had some leverage. In addition to my large party size, the venue is a further drive than other venues in Orlando, so I knew that would increase my negotiating power. So far, I have received a discount on both the ceremony and reception site, free table overlays, free transportation for my guests between the hotel and venue, a free hour added onto my reception, a free set-up hour before the ceremony, as well as a complimentary wedding video.”

Her event coordinator was impressed. And she thinks Grimm would give it a thumbs-up, too. “He would definitely be proud!”


Three Academic Degrees; One Practical Outlook

For Grimm, negotiations have always been a practical skill, not a theoretical discussion.

After nearly four years in the Navy, he left the service in late 1965 with the rank of lieutenant and an even stronger appetite for business. He soon sought and earned an MBA at the University of Florida.

Entering the business world, he made his way up the ranks to chief financial officer with a start-up tech firm and as vice president of corporate finance for an investment-banking group. He also helped take companies through their initial public stock offerings. That’s where he learned what vital roles attorneys played in closing big deals. So he decided to go to law school, earning his law degree from Stetson University.

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook Grimm has helped several companies go public, including Apopka-based Sawtek, which was acquired by TriQuint Semiconductor for well over $1 billion. He recalls that the TriQuint deal made millionaires out of 200 Sawtek employees. He spent his last years as a practicing attorney with the law firm, GrayRobinson, and is still affiliated with the group. He also currently is a Florida Supreme Court-certified circuit mediator.

Grimm has found that mediation requires similar abilities to negotiation, and it keeps his real-world skills honed while teaching classes.

One thing that students learn quickly from the professor of practice in entrepreneurship negotiations is to forget about the popular emphasis on face-to-face tactics and psychological game playing. Skilled negotiators know to expect and to ignore them.

“Ninety percent of any business negotiation is preparation,” Grimm says. “Ten percent is haggling.”

For more tips and advice on negotiating, visit Grimm’s blog: wgrimm.blogspot.com.