The oldest of three children, Napoleon Brandford III was born in East Chicago, Indiana, on February 23, 1952. After graduating from high school in 1970, Brandford briefly attended the University of Nevada at Reno before moving closer to home, completing his B.A. at Purdue University in 1974. Returning west, Brandford attended the University of Southern California where he earned an M.P.A. in 1978.
After completing his graduate work, Brandford became an assistant finance director in the Dade County Finance Department, where he remained until 1982. That year he joined Shearson Lehman Brothers, Inc., as the vice president of public finance in the San Francisco office. In 1985, Brandford partnered with Calvin Grigsby to form Grigsby Brandford & Co., which became one of the nation's premier investment banking firms. While there, Ebony named Brandford one of its Young Tycoons in 1988. In 1997, Brandford and another partner from Grigsby Brandford & Co., Suzanne Shank, joined with Muriel Siebert to form Siebert Brandford Shank, Inc. Today, it is one of the largest female- and minority-owned investment banking firms in the world, with Brandford serving as chairman.
Brandford holds the distinction of being named the youngest African American partner on Wall Street, and he is active with a number of organizations. He serves on the boards of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Finance and Investment Committee, the Western Region of the Boy Scouts of America and the Los Angeles American Heart Association. Brandford is also active in the National Forum of Black Public Administrators and the National Association of Security Professionals. Brandford and his wife, Sharon, live in California.