Jim Bradford ‘73, dean of the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management, spends much of his time immersed in the details of the financial world. In the span of a week this spring, for example, he went from chairing a panel discussion on the effects of the Federal Reserve’s Quantitative Easing program to hosting alumni at a Houston event focused on trends shaping the global energy markets.
But law shaped Bradford’s academic and early professional life. Bradford said he has approached life and work at every stage of his career with a lesson he learned in law school: Always be prepared for tough questions.
“Paul Hartman, known by students as ‘The Dutchman,’ taught Contracts,” Bradford said. “Professor Hartman used the Socratic method and would stand you on your feet for what seemed like hours at a time and filet you. Whatever idea you had, he took it apart and fed it back to you.”
In the nine years since accepting the job as Owen’s dean, Bradford said one tough question he often hears is: “What’s a lawyer doing serving as dean of the business school?”
Part of the answer lies in Bradford’s crossover career. For nearly a decade before coming to Owen, he served as president and CEO of AFG Industries Inc., a global glass manufacturer that merged with Asahi Glass Company in 1992. He arrived at the chief executive post after having spent eight years as the company’s general counsel. Before joining AFG, he spent 11 years in private practice.
“The experience I gained in law school and the legal profession equipped me well to think analytically and strategically about business,” Bradford said.
At Owen, Bradford has raised the school’s profile in national and international rankings. He’s added a host of new programs aimed at health care managers and clinicians, accounting professionals and global executives. Bradford also championed Owen’s Leadership Development Program in partnership with Korn/Ferry International and Hogan Assessment Systems, which has become a national model. After nine years as dean, Bradford is retiring at the end of the 2012–2013 academic year.
With experience in both business and law, Bradford said he sees the line between the two professions blurring. While law firms and government agencies were once the primary organizations recruiting law graduates, Bradford regularly hears from private equity firms, hedge funds and major banks looking for candidates with legal training.
“In the coming years, I believe people with both a legal and business background will be highly sought after,” Bradford said. “That will be particularly true in areas like finance, real estate and entrepreneurship.”