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From the Frontlines to Finance

For Edward Alston, Vanderbilt's flexibility was key

Edward Alston Jr.
Telecommunications Consultant (Retired)

Vanderbilt MM 1971

Many Vanderbilt Business graduates have gone on to distinguished careers, but Ed Alston holds a distinction that none of the others will ever match. He was the first.

In 1969, Alston, an Air Force officer who earned a Bronze Star in Vietnam, was teaching Aerospace Studies in the ROTC program at Tennessee State. Interested in taking some Finance courses at Vanderbilt, he visited the campus and learned from Professor James Davis that Vanderbilt was launching a graduate business school. “Are you interested?” Davis asked.

Alston was — but he also was still on active duty.

“What if,” Davis suggested, reflecting the flexibility for which the school would come to be known, “we worked it out so that, during the first year, you could still teach at TSU and come over to Vanderbilt?”

It was a mutually appealing proposal. Alston was attracted to the prestige of the Vanderbilt name. Meanwhile, with a decade of military experience, he could contribute a knowledge of organizational structure that offered real value to a new still that was just getting organized.

Taking alphabetical precedence on a warm June day in 1971, Edward Alston Jr. became the first graduate of the first class of the Vanderbilt Graduate School of Management.

But being first is hardly the only reason Alston’s name is remembered at Owen. His long career in Finance took him from the Ford Foundation’s Minority Contractors Project in Washington to his own HVAC company in Atlanta, a mechanical contracting firm in Chicago, an executive position with AT&T and his own L.A.-based consulting business. Ebony magazine profiled him. A speaker series at Owen bears his name. 

Retirement didn’t slow him down. Six times, Alston was nationally ranked as a senior tennis player. He maintains a single-digit golf handicap. And he helps nonprofit organizations implement financial literacy programs. “In all segments of society, financial illiteracy is like an epidemic,” he says. “My finance education at OGSM helped give me a different perspective on the world.”