‘A Great Mentor’: Colleagues Remember Former Vanderbilt Dean Jim Bradford, Who Died July 27 At 76

A visit to Jim Bradford’s home in December 2021. Photo: Eric Johnson’s Linkedin.

Jim Bradford led a distinguished career for two decades in the corporate domain before making his way to Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management. He quickly saw success as a professor of strategy, and after a little under a year as interim dean the B-school named him its fifth dean in 2005.

Bradford, who retired in 2013, passed away at the age of 76 on July 27, leaving behind a lasting legacy at the Vanderbilt B-school — and a host of bereaved friends, family and colleagues who remember his generosity, friendship and academic leadership.

His former colleagues, Kelly Christie, the Owen School’s former assistant dean for academic programs, and William Christie, dean emeritus and Frances Hampton Currey professor of management, wrote in a remembrance that Bradford was a “renaissance man” who was a “joy to work with, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for his service in the life of the school.”

During his nine-year deanship, he raised the school’s profile in both international and national rankings, expanded and added to new programs targeting healthcare and accounting professionals, and sought further support from alumni.

He is survived by his wife, his four children and 25 grandchildren, who all favored calling him “Pop.”


Jim Bradford was a 1973 graduate of Vanderbilt Law School. John Russell photo

Bradford’s early career as a corporate executive and lawyer provided him a unique edge when he later entered academia. He served in the U.S. National Guard for six years while stationed at Berry Field in Nashville. He went on to graduate from Vanderbilt Law School in 1973 and practiced for a decade, serving as the general counsel for AFG Industries until he later became its president and CEO for seven years.

In 1997, he completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School. He then became United Glass Corporation’s CEO for three years.

In 2002, Bradford started teaching at Owen; three years later he became its dean. He retired in 2013, but continued teaching business strategy for a few months at ESADE Business School in Spain. He also served a term as chairman of the Graduate Management Admission Council.


Bradford was an avid golfer and gardener who often spent Sunday afternoons with his wife of 54 years, Susan, tugging at weeds, raking, and admiring the roses in their beloved garden. But more than anything, friends recalled, he was a parent, husband, and grandfather.

Bruce Barry, a former colleague, says Bradford pursued the Owen School deanship without the typical academic background and may have initially encountered some skepticism among other faculty members.

“But Jim won us over with his devotion to the school community and generosity of spirit, along with leadership that was smart and humane, leaving Owen a better place than he found it,” says Barry, the Brownlee O. Curry, Jr. chair and professor of management and sociology.

Eric Johnson, who recently departed the Owen deanship after 10 years, wrote on LinkedIn that the entire Vanderbilt community lost a dear friend and colleague.

“Jim was a beloved faculty member and strong leader. He was a great mentor and friend to me – I learned much from Jim! I am grateful for his friendship,” Johnson wrote in his post.

Bradford is credited with developing and launching six immersion, market-driven programs while leading the business school. The program ranged from healthcare, accountancy, finance, business fundamentals to executive education. He spearheaded a summer program called the Accelerator Summer Business Immersion and Leadership Development Program and took on raising the enrollment size of the MBA programs’ executive and full-time classes.


Bradford recruited Johnson. In the remembrance, Johnson commented on his “rare mix” of business executive experience and scholarship.

“I will deeply miss him,” Johnson writes. “Jim was special – he loved business, and he loved academia … but more than anything, he cared about people – particularly Owen students.”

Bradford was particularly known for engaging a greater number of alumni. Under his leadership, the school says financial support from the alumni and community created 19 new school scholarships and eight brand-new faculty chairs. Shortly after becoming dean, he founded a Board of Visitors that was made-up of corporate executives. He established advisory boards for healthcare and accountancy programs to build on further degrees and engage more alumni in the process.

“Jim was unique as he came to the school with a business background instead of an academic one. He brought many strengths to the position, especially with his corporate background. He was our North Star in our corporate relations efforts, and I learned a lot when I worked alongside him in the fund and friend-raising endeavors,” says Sylvia Boyd, Owen School program manager for MBA recruiting and admissions.

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