Charles J. Bradshaw (Born July 15, 1936)
History will write that Charles Bradshaw was destined for success and good fortune. However, the state of South Carolina will forever be thankful for a bit of Bradshaw’s misfortune that occurred a few years before his illustrious business career was launched in the Palmetto state.
A preseason football injury, while he was attending the University of Georgia, set in motion a series of events that led Bradshaw to Wofford College and the city of Spartanburg. Fortunately, he has not looked back since.
Charles J. Bradshaw was born in Lake City, Florida, on July 15, 1936. He was the fifth of six children of James William and Florence Sanders Bradshaw. Growing up in Lake City, Bradshaw enjoyed the simple life afforded by the small southern town. He was proud to become one of “Mr. Mont’s’ boys,” the group mentored by the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, and was deeply influenced by the values of his parents and siblings. There were signs early on that the young Bradshaw was developing a penchant for entrepreneurial success with his first business being a Snowball stand during a hot Florida summer at age 10, and later picking, boiling, and selling peanuts at football games
Bradshaw was active in athletics from an early age. He was a two-sport standout in high school playing football and baseball at Columbia High School in Lake City, and, later, at Dublin High School, in Dublin Georgia, following a family move.
After graduating from Dublin High in June of 1954, Bradshaw received an athletic scholarship to play football at the University of Georgia, where he matriculated in the fall of that year.
Entering his sophomore season as a backup quarterback for the Bulldogs, Bradshaw’s path to success took an abrupt turn when he suffered a season-ending knee injury during a preseason practice.
Understandably frustrated, Bradshaw grew disenchanted with his immediate future at Georgia, and, after much discussion with coaches and family, he decided to transfer to Wofford College in Spartanburg where his new future awaited.
As a transferring Quarterback, one of the first young men Bradshaw met was Wofford’s own rising football star, wide receiver Jerry Richardson. Little did they know that their close friendship would lead to their later business success in South Carolina.
Shortly after meeting Richardson, Bradshaw met his future wife, a Converse College student and Rocky Mount, North Carolina native, Judy Brewer. After graduating with a degree in Mathematics in the spring of 1959, Charlie Bradshaw married Julia Dargan Brewer on June 13 at Rocky Mount Presbyterian Church.
The new couple set up home in Spartanburg, and Bradshaw initially decided to accept a career opportunity with the Ford Motor company. However, Bradshaw’s brother-in-law, Joe Brewer, encouraged him to explore another career path involving a small restaurant in Rocky Mount owned by Brewer’s childhood friends, Jimmy Gardner and Leonard Rawls. The name of this restaurant was Hardee’s Hamburgers.
Initially skeptical of a future career in the fledgling fast-food business, Bradshaw soon became convinced of the potential for success, and, in February of 1961, he agreed to a partnership with his brother-in-law to become the first franchisee of Hardee’s.
Several months later, Bradshaw’s college pal, Jerry Richardson, announced that he was leaving his young career with the NFL’s Baltimore Colts and was interested in joining the partnership. Soon thereafter, Bradshaw and Brewer agreed to add Richardson, along with Jimmy Gardner and Leonard Rawls, and together they witnessed the birth of Spartan Investments.
On October 19, 1961, the partnership opened their first Hardee’s location, on Kennedy Street, in Spartanburg. Success quickly followed, and more restaurants were opened around the Carolinas and beyond.
In 1969, after eight years of phenomenal growth, Spartan Investments became the more familiar Spartan Food Systems and went public. Seven years later, just weeks before their 40th birthdays, Bradshaw and Richardson accomplished a major goal of being listed on the New York Stock Exchange. One year later, in 1977, they purchased the Quincy’s Steakhouse chain, and in 1979, Spartan Foods was purchased by the Transworld Corporation for $80 million.
Following the purchase by Transworld, Bradshaw became Senior Vice President of Food Services, which included Spartan Foods as well as the world’s largest vending service, the Canteen Company. In 1984, Bradshaw was named President and Chief Operating Officer of Transworld, which, in addition to its food service holdings, included TWA, Hilton International Hotels, and Century 21 Real Estate.
In 1986, Bradshaw decided to leave Transworld and New York City and head back to the Palmetto State to found Bradshaw Investments, a holding company that allowed him to work closely with his three children and provide them with valuable business opportunities and experience. The company’s diverse holdings have included golf courses, thoroughbred horse breeding, auto dealerships, restaurants, and even a country music theater in Myrtle Beach.
Bradshaw became a board member of the Sonoco Corporation, of Hartsville, South Carolina, in 1986, and continues to serve in that capacity today. In addition, he has served as a board member for Transworld Corporation, The SCN Corporation, Textile Hall Corporation, Brookgreen Gardens, National Steel Corporation, as well as the Spartanburg and South Carolina Chambers of Commerce.
From an early age, Bradshaw learned the value of giving back to the community. His civic involvement includes service with the Spartanburg Regional Medical Center Foundation, Leadership Spartanburg, Junior Achievement of Spartanburg, The Charles Lea Center, the Boys Clubs of America, and the Wofford College Advisory Board.
Most special to Bradshaw has been the establishment of the Judy Bradshaw Children’s Foundation, which provides funding to assist children with therapeutic necessities that their families otherwise could not afford. Bradshaw funded the foundation, which is directed by Judy and their daughter Dargan Bradshaw, with a gift of stock. Bradshaw knew Judy had a passion and love for helping children, especially those with medical needs, and he says, “I wanted to give Judy a meaningful present, one that would continue to give to her heart.”
Bradshaw has been the recipient of many service awards. Among these honors are the Distinguished Service Award from the South Carolina Jaycees, the Spartanburg Distinguished Citizen Award, a Doctorate of Humanities and the Alumni Distinguished Service Award from Wofford College, and election to the Wofford and State of South Carolina Athletic Halls of Fame.
As Bradshaw winds down his illustrious forty-five year career, his passions turn exclusively toward his family, now with six grandchildren, and his love of golf. He credits his parents and siblings, Dr. Mont, and Judy’s father as having the greatest influence on his life. His credo for life is that if he stays “true to the Lord and close to Judy, everything else will take care of itself.”
Bradshaw reflects upon his experience with Spartan Food Systems and turning a small business into a successful company with 430 Hardee’s stores as his proudest business achievement. He believes Junior Achievement provides the road map Spartan Foods used in Spartanburg to teach youth how to pursue and develop a business. His advice for young entrepreneurs stresses the importance of good character and wisely choosing your peer group. Bradshaw notes, “You won’t be any more successful than the people around you.”
Charles J. Bradshaw was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 2006.
© 2006 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame