Don (III) and Donny Bradley (IV), share more than recognizable smiles, bigger than life personalities and a similar passion for sports. Professionally, the father/son pair have a lot in common, and you can bank on it.
The two are well known individually in the regional banking industry – Don an educator, counselor and mentor, and Donny an executive in the industry.
“I have great memories of sitting down to meals and Dad lecturing us,” Donny says. “You know, how to do X, Y, or Z. A lot of times, it was a classroom environment at the dinner table.”
Don’s three children each picked up the value of education and persistence from their dad. One daughter heads the Department of Environmental Science at Flathead Valley Community College in Montana. The other lives locally and works in pharmaceutical sales. Donny is a senior vice president at First Arkansas Bank & Trust in Conway. All three Bradley children have graduate degrees from the University of Central Arkansas.
“Dad, and I say this genuinely and with utmost respect, always pushed us,” Donny said. “He was one of those tough love guys. I will never forget how excited I was to graduate from college. And before he said anything else to me that day, he said, ‘When are you going to get your masters?’
“In many respects, I had a unique childhood, and I would never have accomplished the things I have without his drive.”
For more than 33 years, the elder Bradley educated, trained and counseled some of the best bankers in the state during his tenure at the University of Central Arkansas. As a professor of marketing and management, hundreds of students seeking degrees in finance most likely completed his courses. As founder and leader of the Small Business Advancement National Center (SBANC) at UCA, Bradley has advised and provided economic resources and counseling to small businesses, nonprofits and legislators. He retired in 2015.
“I also had a side business called American Marketing Group for years,” Don said. “I consulted a lot of local bankers.”
For the last 20-plus years, Donny has served in the banking industry. He, too, studied under his father at UCA, first as an undergrad and then earning his Masters in Business Administration.
“I guess I got into banking, honestly, because of a conversation I had with my dad during college,” Donny said. “I was talking to Dad one day about the fact I wanted to be in Conway and I wanted to own my own business. He said, ‘What kind of business?’ I said I didn’t know. He said that was a major problem and suggested I get into banking to learn more about business and finance. He was my academic advisor, so I guess he knew best. …”
Donny would enter into the banking world and begin soaking up all he could about business from bank customers. He watched successful ventures and those that tanked from bad practices.
“I guess after 20-plus years, I am still polishing my skills,” he laughed. “But really, I don’t see myself doing anything else. I really like what I do. I like being able to learn from people and help people.”
For the father and son, there is a balance between teaching and learning. Donny, although not always predictable, has managed a successful run to home plate.
“I remember him playing baseball the first time,” Don said. “I was so proud when he hit the ball to the fence. He had never played before. But then he ran to third base!”
Donny chimed in with a laugh, “I still learn based off my mistakes, and in the real world, I’ve learned all lessons that way.”
Despite his wayward first run around the bases, Donny ended up an all-around athlete at Conway High School, and those experiences further secured a bond with his sports-loving dad. But beyond that, too, Don is quick to point out that Donny made lifelong connections, bonded by team sports and relationships, with minority cohorts who would later become local clients.
“From the business perspective,” Don says, “I am so proud of the number of people he has helped start businesses and keep in business, especially in the minority community.”
Donny, with a nod, reflected on that point.
“I think, that yes, I have been able to help and do really neat things for my friends, several relationships bonded over sports.”
Don, speaking to WINC. Magazine via phone from Key West on a recent afternoon, said he always wanted the best for each of his three children and is immensely proud of their careers. He acknowledges he pushed, but saw potential and promise in what would lie ahead for his children.
“What Dad won’t say is that he inherited nothing,” Donny said. “He came from nothing. And I can’t be prouder that he got to retirement and he gets to do whatever he wants to do. If I can be where he is at retirement, I will say, ‘I have arrived.’ To watch and see what he’s been able to accomplish brings the greatest joy to my heart. It was his goal to retire and to travel.”
For Don and wife, Jan, family completes the joy. For the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary last year, they took the whole family to Disney World (Don and Jan have season tickets).
“I mean, it was amazing,” Don said, “to spend a whole week together.”
Donny added, “And they weren’t riding the ‘People Mover.’ Dad loves Space Mountain and Rockin’ Roller Coaster!”
Don made a point to travel with his family from the beginning, using income from his consulting business to visit Hawaii, the Bahamas, spending learning summers in Europe and more than a few trips with Donny to Kansas City to watch the Chiefs or the Royals play.
“We’re both die hard Kansas City fans,” Donny said. “I have so many fond memories of me and Dad at the games, and still, to this day, we do all of those things.”
As patriarch, teacher and mentor, Don hopes the one family lesson that will resonate for generations is the one his own father passed down to him. Donny will surely pass the lesson onto son Bradon (Don Bradley V), 12, and daughter Bree, 8.
“Always try to improve yourself,” Don said. “As my dad taught me, leave it better than you received it. Don’t be satisfied.”