Curt Grimm, Dean’s Professor of Supply Chain and Strategy, described coaching his young son’s softball team to a rapt audience in Frank Auditorium. Grimm knew that only two of the children could reliably catch the ball. So he put those boys at first and second base, and then instructed their teammates to only throw the ball to first and second. It proved to be a winning strategy, because his son’s team took the championship that year. Grimm asked his audience to assess his competitive strategy: was it good, bad or ugly?
Grimm examined the good, the bad and the ugly of competitive behavior in his 2010 Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Lecture on Oct. 7, 2010. The University of Maryland’s Distinguished Scholar-Teacher award honors faculty who personify the university image of the professorate by virtue of their outstanding scholarly accomplishments and excellence in teaching. Grimm is the 13th Smith School professor to be so honored.
“Curt is my role model of what a professor should be,” said Dean G. “Anand” Anandalingam in his introduction. Grimm has repeatedly won Smith School teaching awards and has had a distinguished scholarly career in the areas of competition and strategic management, and transportation policy. Few professors are able to consistently make important contributions in two such widely differing fields.
Grimm’s lecture gave attendees a brief survey of his two major streams of research, with frequent illustrations from his own life and from the behaviors of major companies. He was welcomed to the stage with a standing ovation from a crowd that included his wife, brother and mother-in-law, as well as faculty, staff and students from the Smith School and across the university.
Competitive behavior, Grimm said, is often at the edge of what society considers unpleasant, unseemly, or unethical. Sometimes competitive behavior leads to lowered safety performance, as in Grimm’s studies of the transportation industry after deregulation. Lower financial performance led to companies cutting corners, which resulted in safety issues. “Did we go too far in the deregulation of the finance industry? Of offshore drilling?” wondered Grimm.
Competitive behavior can also be detrimental to a firm’s bottom line. In the heated competition between XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio, both firms lost a great deal of money, even though they were the only two serious players in the market.