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Remembering Jim Bradford, Dean Emeritus, Vanderbilt Business

Aug 1, 2023
Jim Bradford leaves a legacy of impact on Vanderbilt Business, having spearheaded the development and launch of several programs, leading with persistent generosity

By Lacie Blankenship

Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management is deeply saddened by the passing of James (Jim) Bradford, Dean Emeritus. Bradford passed away on July 27, 2023, at the age of 76.  

Pictured: Jim Bradford at the Vanderbilt Business Commencement

Jim Bradford in his Commencement Regalia

“Jim [Bradford] was a renaissance man who achieved success as a lawyer, businessman, teacher, leader, gardener, and most importantly as “Pops” to his army of grandchildren,” says friends and former colleagues, Kelly Christie, Former Assistant Dean for Academic Programs and Student Life, and William (Bill) Christie, Dean Emeritus, and Frances Hampton Currey Professor of Management, Emeritus. “He was a joy to work with, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for his service in the life of the school.”

Bradford’s journey to academic leadership was unique, and his distinctive background played a pivotal role in his powerful impact on Vanderbilt Business. In 2005, he was named the school’s 5th dean after serving as interim dean for just under a year. He first came to Owen to teach Strategy in the Vanderbilt MBA program after nearly 2 decades of service as a corporate executive. Before that, Bradford, a Vanderbilt Law School alumnus (JD’73), practiced law for 10 years, serving as general counsel for AFG Industries before accepting the position of president and CEO. Bradford also served in the United States Air National Guard from 1969 to 1975. 

“He [Jim Bradford] came to the role of dean without the academic background that is usually involved, and as a result, initially encountered some skepticism among research faculty. 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 Bruce Barry, Brownlee O. Curry, Jr. Chair and Professor of Management and Sociology. 

Pictured: Bruce Barry (left) and Jim Bradford (right) grilling. Bradford is seen wearing one of his iconic aprons with "Chef Bradford" monogrammed.

Bruce Barry (left) and Jim Bradford (right). Bradford enjoyed preparing meals for others and often wore a “Chef Bradford” apron.

“Jim [Bradford] 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, Program Manager, MBA Recruiting and Admissions. “What I admired most was Jim’s kindness and patience. He cared so deeply for the school and was kind to everyone. He was indeed a mentor and a friend.”

During his tenure, Bradford was a pushing force in developing and launching 6 innovative, market-driven, and immersion-based programs at Vanderbilt Business. The programs that originated under his leadership range in topics from healthcare, accountancy, finance, executive education, and business fundamentals. He oversaw the origin of Accelerator® Summer Business Immersion and the Leadership Development Program (LDP) and raised the profile of the school’s incoming MBA and Executive MBA classes. Bradford is also remembered for his determination to engage with a larger number of Vanderbilt Business alumni. 

Soon after he was named dean, Bradford established the Board of Visitors, comprised of leading corporate executives, to strengthen the strategic direction of the school further. He also founded advisory boards for the healthcare and accountancy degree programs, adding more opportunities for alumni involvement. Under Bradford, the financial support from alumni and the community resulted in the endowment of 19 new school scholarships and 8 new faculty chairs.

“Jim was special – he loved business, and he loved academia. He was that rare mix of business executive and scholar. But more than anything, he cared about people – particularly Owen students. He gave them confidence and was always cheering them on. He was a great mentor and friend to me, and I will deeply miss him,” says M. Eric Johnson, Dean Emeritus and Bruce D. Henderson Professor of Strategy, who Bradford recruited. 

Pictured: A group photo showing Bradford receiving a personalized Vanderbilt themed Hatch Show Print.

Jim Bradford (middle) was gifted a Hatch Show Print with his name above “Vanderbilt University.”

Vanderbilt Business remembers Jim Bradford for his steadfast commitment and big-picture mindset for the school and community. Not only did he leave a legacy of impact while leading with unwavering generosity at Vanderbilt Business, but he also left a legacy as a devoted and loving family man. 

Visitation services with the family will be held on Sunday, August 13, 2023, from 1:30 PM until 3:00 PM, followed by a Celebration of Life at 3:00 PM at Belmont United Methodist Church. 

Read Bradford’s obituary

Memorial contributions can be sent to Belmont United Methodist Church, the James Bradford Scholarship at Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management, or Adoration Hospice (Nashville).

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