In Memoriam: Atomic Data Co-Founder Jim Wolford
Jim Wolford, founder of Atomic Data, died unexpectedly on May 5.

In Memoriam: Atomic Data Co-Founder Jim Wolford

From the office to his neighborhood to a library in Uganda, community members remember the longtime entrepreneur's legacy.

The sudden death of longtime Minnesota entrepreneur and philanthropist Jim Wolford rocked the business community over the weekend.

Wolford, 55, died unexpectedly Friday, May 5.

For over two decades, he served as co-founder and CEO of Atomic Data. Throughout his career, he founded multiple other IT companies, but Wolford’s work transcended business. Those close to Wolford remember his signature elbow bump, and the way he noticed their interests. They remember his love for his family, friends, and community. They remember him as a friend who would check in about their own families, no matter how busy things got.

While many people are fantastic problem identifiers, few are also problem solvers or action takers. That was not the case when it came to Wolford. From the office to the home to the streets of his neighborhood and city — all the way out to refugee camps across the world — Wolford was ready to offer a hand. A free library in a Ugandan refugee camp, for instance, will live on for years to come because of Wolford’s philanthropic work. The library provides educational materials and opportunities for 3,000 refugees a month.

In lieu of flowers, people are asked to donate to Start Reading Now in his name, a nonprofit Wolford stepped in and saved from closure years ago to ensure kids have access to books.

Wolford was known for his investment in numerous local and global nonprofit and business projects.

Laura Best, founder of women’s professional development business Passion Collective, remembers the first words Jim Wolford ever spoke to her when the two were neighbors. One day while Best was on a walk, Wolford drove up to her, rolled down his window, and said, “I know what you’re doing for women. I want to help you. Let’s get lunch.”

When Wolford said he’d help, he always followed through, Best told TCB in the days following the death of her friend, mentor, and supporter. Before his sponsorship, Passion Collective was working with around 500 women. Now, more than 8,500 women from across the globe are part of the program’s networking and mentorship community. Wolford was never one to make an empty promise, Best said.

“Losing a mentor really hurts because he truly was somebody who had your back and believed in you,” Best said. “Having that belief when you’re trying to do something that maybe hasn’t been done before — or you’re trying to do it in a different way — it’s life-changing.”

Alex Yantifovich, a product engineer for Atomic Data, said he still half-expects to see Wolford walk through the office doors. He said Wolford took a chance on him when he hired him nine years ago. The two men are both the fathers of two boys, so they often talked about fatherhood, no matter the time of day. Wolford took a real interest in his employees and the people around him, Yantifovich said. He knew Yantifovich loved foraging for mushrooms so, one day, Yantifovich found a foraging bag on his desk. Wolford knew Yantifovich was a refugee from the former Soviet Union with Ukrainian family roots.

He knew Yantifovich had lived in a refugee camp when he was 12 years old. So when the war in Ukraine began, he paid for Yantifovich to fly out to a refugee camp in Poland to provide aid. Wolford covered all expenses for two weeks. He also donated money to organizations providing medical supplies to Ukraine.

“I’m going to miss him dearly,” Yantifovich said. “He’s helped so many people. Just watching him operate and learning from him every day, it’s something that’s irreplaceable.”

When asked about his favorite times with Wolford, longtime friend Skip Krawczyk thinks about smoking cigars, playing the card game Pitch, and drinking mineral water. Once a month, Wolford would gather a group of six to seven business owners to play Pitch and smoke cigars. They would talk about ways to improve business. They would also talk about family and philanthropy, all topics that go hand-in-hand, Krawczyk said.

“When you take care of your clients and your employees, you don’t have to worry about your financials,” he said. “When you don’t take care of your clients and employees is when you worry about your finances. [Put] them first, then everything will fall into place.”

Now, Krawczyk hopes to still hold meetings where business owners smoke cigars, play cards, and play Pitch in Wolford’s memory. And Wolford’s giving spirit lives on in the people he influenced, he noted. Through his companies, Wolford contributed millions of dollars to the arts, mental health, cancer research, veteran support, refugees, people with disabilities, youth programs, homeless shelters, food banks, and green energy.

“When you think of Jim Wolford, you think of a big heart. When you think of a big heart, you think of Jim Wolford,” Krawczyk said.