William Bradley (“Bill”) Turner was a business, civic, and philanthropic leader based in Columbus. He was the chairman emeritus of the executive committee of Synovus Financial Corporation, the treasurer of the Bradley-Turner Foundation, and the chairman of the Pastoral Institute. Turner was also the chairman and chief executive officer of the W. C. Bradley Company.
Turner was born in Columbus on October 11, 1922, to Elizabeth Bradley and D. Abbott Turner. As an eight-year-old boy, Turner was tapped for future leadership by his grandfather, W. C. Bradley. He also learned and developed his business acumen through observing the model of his father. After graduating from the Georgia Institute of Technology and serving in the navy, he joined his father in 1947 in the leadership of the family’s business interests.
Turner and his wife, Sue Marie Thompson, had six children. His son William Bradley (“Brad”) Turner Jr. is the chief operating officer of the W. C. Bradley Company, and his nephew, Stephen Butler, is chief executive officer of the same company. Turner’s other children continue the family’s involvement as business and community leaders, as do his sisters, Sarah Louise Butler and Elizabeth Corn, and their spouses, children, and grandchildren. Until 2004, Turner and his sisters were included on Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, with an estimated wealth of $740 million each.
In 1930 W. C. Bradley founded the Columbus Bank and Trust (CB&T) and served as president until his death in 1947, when D. Abbott Turner became chairman of the board. In 1957 James W. Blanchard, the chief executive officer of Citizens and Southern Bank in Valdosta, became CB&T’s new president. Upon Blanchard’s death in 1969, the Turners hired Bill Curry, retired chief executive officer of Trust Company Bank in Atlanta. Curry mentored Blanchard’s son, James H. Blanchard, who became the top executive in 1971. He led CB&T to become one of the largest financial institutions in the Southeast, and in 1989 the company changed its name to the Synovus Financial Corporation.
Like his father and grandfather before him, Turner served on the board of directors for the Coca-Cola Company. During his term of service (1980-96), Coca-Cola experienced a change in leadership from Robert Woodruff to Roberto Goizueta, and stock values increased forty-one times. This prosperity, along with the success of the stocks for Synovus and the W. C. Bradley Company, helped underwrite many of the community projects supported by the Bradley-Turner Foundation.
An active member of St. Luke United Methodist Church, Turner taught a senior high school student Sunday school class for more than fifty years. His Christian commitment, along with the role models of leadership that he saw in his father and grandfather, was the key to the principles that guide his life and work.
He explained these principles in his memoir, The Learning of Love: A Journey toward Servant Leadership (2000). The organizational structure in a business, family, or community that follows servant leadership turns upside down, with the leader at the bottom, supporting those who do the work. The leader maintains open channels of communication and encourages creativity in ideas and actions, with the understanding that stakeholders following their creativity will lead to a stronger organization.
Turner adopted this philosophy of life, work, and philanthropy in his own service. In 1955, noting a need for mental health services in the Columbus area, the Turners endowed the Bradley Center. In 1974 the Bradley Center gave rise to another organization, the Pastoral Institute, which is now home to the Center for Servant Leadership.
Upon retirement from active business leadership in 1987, Turner devoted additional time to his philanthropic endeavors in Columbus and elsewhere in the state. He was appointed by Governor Joe Frank Harris in 1986 to serve on the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. He was involved in recruiting the women’s softball competition of the 1996 Olympic Games to Columbus and to building the stadium where the events took place. Through the Bradley-Turner Foundation, he and his family were central to the redevelopment of uptown Columbus, from the expansion and upgrading of Columbus State University, to the improvement of public housing in the Columbus area. They were also central players in the highly successful Columbus Challenge fund-raising campaign, which raised $87 million in capital and endowment funds for eight cultural organizations. Subsequently, the foundation has endowed professorships and centers for servant leadership at several public and private institutions throughout the state.
Turner died on July 31, 2017, in his Columbus home. He was ninety-four.