After eight years at the helm of Vanderbilt University’s business school, James W. Bradford Jr. announced on Dec. 13 he will be stepping down as dean of the Owen Graduate School of Management at the end of this academic year.
Under Bradford, the school gained greater prominence in key rankings, rising two places this year to finish 23rd in the Poets&Quants’ composite ranking of the best full-time MBA programs in the U.S. It was 28th only two years ago in 2010.
The school jumped an incredible 12 places in Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s 2012 ranking to 25th from 37th two years ago. BusinessWeek, which largely ranks MBA programs on the basis of graduate and corporate recruiter satisfaction, reported significant improvement on both those measures for Owen. On the magazine’s corporate recruiter survey, the school jumped a dozen places to rank 31st from 43rd two years ago. On BW’s graduate satisfaction survey, Owen showed a six-place gain to finish 24th from 30rd two years ago.
To improve the school’s standing, Bradford reduced MBA enrollment, beefed up scholarship aid and went about significantly improving the quality of its students. Besides increased the average GMAT scores of enrolled MBA students, the acceptance rate for its full-time MBA program fell to 29% in 2011 from 36% in 2010 (the acceptance rate for the class that entered in the fall of 2012, however, was back up to 37%.)
“I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish at the Owen School. I am ready to take on the next challenge, enjoy life and be with my wife of 44 years and large family,” Bradford said in a statement. “The school is on solid footing and a strong trajectory,” he added. “I am not retiring my passion and support for this school and people I’ve come to respect.”
Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Richard McCarty said in a statement, “Jim Bradford leaves Owen with a solid foundation as a top 25 business school. He has built important connections with the business community and with Owen alumni; those connections have resulted in strong support for Owen and have opened doors to our students as they embarked on their post-Owen careers. Above all, Jim has been a powerful champion for Owen students in a very tight job market.”
McCarty said he plans to announce a search for Bradford’s replacement early in the new year.
Bradford was named the Owen School’s fifth dean in 2005 after having served as acting dean for nine months. He first came to Owen in 2002 to teach strategy in the Vanderbilt MBA program after nearly two decades of experience as a corporate executive. A graduate of Vanderbilt Law School, he practiced law from 1973 to 1984, serving as general counsel for AFG Industries before accepting the position of president and CEO of that firm.
During his tenure, Bradford has diversified Owen’s educational programs, raised the student profile of the school’s incoming MBA and Executive MBA classes and worked to engage a larger number of alumni in the life of the school and the university.
He spearheaded the development and launch of several degree programs at Owen: a full-time Health Care MBA and a Master of Management in Health Care for working professionals; two Master of Accountancy programs; a Master of Science in Finance and an Americas MBA for Executives. He also oversaw the creation of Accelerator, a 30-day intensive summer program for highly qualified undergraduates as well as a Leadership Development Program developed in partnership with Korn-Ferry.
Financial support under Bradford from alumni and friends of the school has resulted in the endowment of 19 new school scholarships and eight new faculty chairs.
Under Bradford’s leadership, the quality and diversity of Owen students have improved significantly with 2012 incoming classes among the strongest academically as well as the most diverse. In addition, both student and employer satisfaction have steadily risen, resulting in significant improvements in key rankings—the Vanderbilt MBA program is currently ranked 25th in both U.S. News & World Report and Bloomberg BusinessWeek, 30th globally in Financial Times and 22nd in North America in the Economist.
In 2006, Bradford established a Board of Visitors comprised of leading corporate executives to further strengthen Owen’s connection and relevance to the national and international business communities, and has formed an additional advisory board for the accountancy degree programs and has strengthened the involvement of the alumni board.
He serves on several corporate boards and recently became chairman of the Board of Directors for the Graduate Management Admissions Council, the organization that administers the GMAT exam.