By Chloe Riley
Growing up 45 minutes from Oxford, Keith Bradford (BAccy 84) was born a fan of Ole Miss. Spending weekends in the fall cheering on the Rebels with his dad, there was never any doubt Bradford would attend the university after high school graduation.
“I grew up in Vardaman, Miss., and my parents were huge Ole Miss fans,” Bradford said. “My dad in particular had a huge love for Ole Miss, which of course he passed on to me, so attending Ole Miss was always what I wanted to do.”
With a natural talent for math, Bradford had to decide between a major in either accounting or finance when he came to Ole Miss.
“Dealing with numbers and business is what I knew I wanted to do, and I decided to choose accounting over finance because with an accounting degree I would have a technical skill that I could fall back on,” Bradford said. “I didn’t want to practice accountancy in the long run, but I knew it would be a solid foundation for me to get into the business world and that has absolutely proven to be the case.”
A member of Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity, Bradford’s focus during his time at Ole Miss was on his education, fraternity and sports.
“It was the greatest four years of school and networking,” Bradford said. “I still have friends that I call upon today. The connections you make at Ole Miss are everlasting.”
Upon graduation from the university, Bradford took his first job working with a local CPA in his hometown of Vardaman. After six months of auditing, Bradford packed his bags and headed for Memphis, where he accepted a job with an accounting firm.
After moving around to a few different accounting firms in Memphis, Bradford answered an ad in the newspaper to work for the Hyatt Hotels Corporation, ultimately changing the course of his career path.
“The Hyatt in Memphis hired me as an assistant controller to do their books and finances, and that’s where I got my first taste of the hospitality business,” Bradford said.
From there, the corporation transferred Bradford to Washington, D.C. where he worked for the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill and helped open Hyatt hotel locations in Northern Virginia.
“At that point, I had an interesting opportunity,” Bradford said. “Through networks from Ole Miss, I went to the Marriott headquarters to start the Fairfield Inn chain from scratch.”
Working in accounting and accounting systems for the Fairfield, Courtyard and Residence Inn chains for seven years, Bradford was ready to make the leap out of the finance world and into operations.
“I felt like I had found what I was meant to do; I wanted to run a hotel and take on a role as a general manager,” Bradford said.
With a need for him to stay in his executive accounting position, Marriott turned down his request to become a general manager with the company. After that, Bradford made a call to his friend working for the Walt Disney Company, and within six months he was opening up the franchise’s first off-site hotel in Vero Beach, Fla.
The transition to Disney ultimately led to his current position as vice president of Disney Springs in Orlando.
“I was the general manager for several hotels at Walt Disney World, including Port Orleans Resort and Disney’s Contemporary Resort,” Bradford said. “I then did lease negotiations for all third party contracts in the United States for Disneyland and Disney World, and from there I was promoted to vice president in the that role.”
For the past eight years, Bradford has been revamping and revitalizing Downtown Disney into what is now Disney Springs.
“Basically, we have doubled the size of the property, done a complete overhaul of what was Downtown Disney into what is now Disney Springs, and added 50 brand new stores and 17 new restaurants,” Bradford said. “We just opened and launched Disney Springs this past May.”
With a vast and diverse list of accomplishments, Bradford attributes his success to his wife and family, hard work, his education at Ole Miss and just a little bit of luck along the way.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a wonderful family that was supportive of my career; in particular, my wife,” Bradford said. “I think about the number of times we had to move for my career and she never hesitated to do that, so there was a lot of sacrifice on her part.”
Above all, Bradford approaches life with the philosophy that hard work isn’t a choice you have; it’s something you just do.
“I’ve never been afraid to get engaged and do what’s necessary, and I believe that’s a critical component of being successful.”