As a young boy, Jim Atkinson Jr. (BBA, accountancy, ’95) didn’t think of himself as a particularly important person. He was a pretty good athlete and teammate, and a good student with a mind for math. He loved numbers and dreamed of someday flying helicopters and becoming a fighter pilot.
It was the 1980s in Middleton, Idaho, and as one of six children Atkinson knew things were tight for his family.
“My dad worked for a farmer in Middleton and my mother was a schoolteacher when she wasn’t raising us,” he says. “They were a constant in the Middleton community. My dad was at all our games. I think my parents have always been my biggest fans. They made me feel like I could accomplish anything I set my mind to.”
His mother, Elaine, was the force that inspired Atkinson to stay focused on his studies.
“My mom would say ‘A’s are great and B’s are OK if that’s what you can get, but you’re smart enough to get A’s so I did.”
Family support, good grades and being active in athletics helped Atkinson prepare for college. He made money topping corn in the fields, doing manual labor, building RVs and working in construction. But he still needed scholarships to afford school.
After serving a two-year church mission in Argentina, Atkinson attended Boise State. That summer, he met his future wife on a double blind date. To pair up, a coin was flipped and he won the pick, choosing the taller of the two women, Leisha Lathen (BBA, accountancy, ’98).
Later that summer, Atkinson met his future father-in-law, Bill Lathen, former dean of the College of Business and Economics at Boise State.
“Hanging around the Lathens’ table that summer, Bill showed me things to think about when declaring a major, like there were a lot of scholarships for accounting majors. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to work in accounting at that time, but I decided to declare accounting my major, and I did earn scholarships. Fortunately, I loved it. And I’ve really considered Bill to be a huge mentor in life and somebody whose advice and counsel I appreciate immensely.”
Fast forward: Undergrad at Boise State, Bronco basketball team and NCAA tournament, internship at Simplot, marriage, first born, graduation, a move to the East Coast, first job at Arthur Anderson in public accounting, years on the road followed by a term at the Securities and Exchange Commission as an accounting fellow for Arthur Anderson, a move to Washington, D.C., turmoil in the marketplace, Sept. 11, 2001 (Atkinson witnessed the Pentagon burning), eight more years with the SEC, additions to the family (the Atkinson’s have seven children) recruitment to work at a massive, multinational insurance company with a $98 billion balance sheet, and a move to Philadelphia to work for ACE Group in technical accounting. Whew.
Now with more than 20 years of accomplishments behind him, Atkinson says he and Leisha couldn’t have guessed this would be his life
But looking back, even though my school was small and in a rural community, I was being prepared for college and the opportunities it would provide,” he says.
“I also have really good memories of going to Boise State football and basketball games with my dad and watching the Saturday night replays with my dad and brothers. This has always been extremely important to us. So Leisha and I realized it would mean a ton to my dad and my mom if we set up a scholarship to benefit a Middleton student in their name.”
Atkinson recalls last year’s Christmas Day video call over Skype.
“We’d sent my mom and dad a plaque with the name of the scholarship. When they opened it, my mom immediately started to cry. My dad was also very emotional — he’s a fairly emotional guy. He tried to turn the monitor so we couldn’t see his reaction. We know it’s very special to my parents, and it’s very special to me.”