Published September 17, 2002
Volume 10, Number 9

31st Year on the Job Brings new Challenges to Steven Grimm

By George Walsh
Special to Network

The concept of spending an entire career working for a single employer may seem as old-fashioned as pursuing the fabled gold watch of retirement or wearing a suit to work on Fridays. For Steven Grimm, however, after celebrating his 30th anniversary at SBC Long Distance, he not only sees more accomplishments on the horizon, but certainly doesn’t view his career with the jaded eye you might expect from someone who has spent such a long time with the same organization. 

Grimm is the president of SBC Long Distance, which currently provides long distance telephone service in Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas, and plans to begin providing the same service here in California in December of this year. 

Steven GrimmGrimm started working for Pacific Bell when he was going to college, and was still a part of the company when it merged with and became part of SBC. However, he hasn’t been in the same department for his entire tenure with the company. 

“I did a couple of non-management jobs while I was going to college,” Grimm says. “I worked in supplies, and the mailroom and did a little bit of installation and repair work as I was going through school. As I got my degree, I went into management and managed a group of non-management people for a couple of different functions. Then, I went into outside plan engineering and switching engineering, followed by technology planning, architectural planning, strategy work, and a little bit of legal regulatory work with commissions. After that, I ran a special services organization for Northern California, then came to long distance about five years ago as a chief engineer.” 

All of these positions ultimately lead to his appointment as president of SBC Long Distance in January 2000. 

“When you’ve been around this long you generally have quite a few job assignments,” he says. “There are a lot of places you can go here and still stay within one company.”

Grimm graduated from San Jose State University in 1978 with a Bachelor of Science in business administration and a minor in ecological studies. 

“I think the business background gives you a pretty solid footing in various piece parts of the business environment,” Grimm says. “The statistical capabilities, quantitative business analysis, accounting, math, and just basic management classes, I think were very helpful in helping me get where I am today.” 

More recently, Grimm was pursuing a Master’s degree at Golden Gate University. His work schedule eventually interfered, but he’s completed 80% of the classes he needs to achieve that degree. 

“You never want to stop learning,” he says. “People think that you’ve put in 30 years and you’re brain dead but you want to keep sharp and you want to keep current on what’s going on.” 

Grimm may return at some point to complete his Master’s degree with tentative plans to go into teaching after retirement.

Staying in the game is a character trait Grimm has exhibited both in business and on the playing field. Throughout high school and into adulthood, Grimm has been involved in sports. In fact, he was supposed to attend Stanford University on a baseball scholarship. Unfortunately, while playing ball in Anchorage Alaska between his senior year in high school and his freshman year in college, he injured his elbow, losing both the scholarship and the opportunity to attend Stanford. This didn’t stop his participation in sports, however. He played softball competitively up until about a year or two ago, traveling to national tournaments out of state that took him to Hawaii, New York, Texas, Alabama, and Chicago. 

Grimm sees many similarities between the philosophies of sports and business. 

“Sports teach you to be part of a team. they teach you that things are not always going to be fair. You can be the best team and not work hard enough and get beat by a team that works harder than you. It teaches you to count on other folks and to be accountable. The regimen you learn and certain principals that you apply in sports are very applicable to business.”

The knowledge and experience of a good coach and mentor can be a major benefit in improving your game plan, and Grimm says that he probably learned the most from former boss and current SBC senior executive vice president for services Ross Ireland. 

“Ross could take a very complex topic and break it down into the simplest of details for the lay person or he could be technically detailed with experts,” Grimm says. 

Ireland helped him to realize and take advantage of opportunities at SBC, as well as providing examples that would aid him throughout his career. 

Just as in sports, it seems that success in business is often the result of hard work combined with just a little bit of good luck. 

“At the time I came in contact with Ross, I was really trying to work hard and make the most of my opportunities. He gave me quite a few opportunities. I think there are a lot of capable people across the business but sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time. Then, if you’re in the right place at the right time, you need to deliver.”

Steven Grimm’s success can also be attributed to the fact that he’s really a team player. Even in leadership roles, he expects members of his team to rely on their own skill sets to contribute to the company’s overall success. 

“I think I’ve tried to be pretty up front with people,” he says. “Generally, when people have asked me for my opinion, even if it hasn’t been the popular opinion, I’ve spoken my mind. I’ve always believed if people asked you for your opinion you ought to give it to them, so I really haven’t been a ‘yes man.’ I try to treat people as I would hope they would treat me. So, if I ask them a question or ask them for their thoughts, I don’t really want to hear my thoughts echoed back. I’d rather differ and then come together and formulate a strategy that we’re both willing to pursue. I think it’s important that you take in many differing viewpoints.”

Retirement seems to be the last thing on Grimm’s mind right now. He’s excited about being at the helm of SBC’s current efforts in the long distance phone service business. 

“I’m really focused right now on the next 18 to 36 months and really trying to make us the very best long distance company we can be,” he says. “Then we’ll just kind of see what the next logical step is for me.” 

With his open-minded approach to business and general sense of fair play, you can bet than many of those who work for Steven Grimm hope he won’t retire any time soon.

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