Though his family name is among the most recognizable in the region, James E. "Jim" Ukrop likes to stay in the background.
Jim Ukrop and his brother Bobby were the second-generation top executives of the family's venerated regional grocery chain, which they sold in 2010.
Jim Ukrop also had helped found the bank that had branches at Ukrop's Super Markets Inc. locations, and until 2013, he continued as an executive or board member with the bank, which now operates as Union Bank & Trust.
In 2011, Ukrop was one of the principals who launched New Richmond Ventures, a firm that has assembled a network of investors interested in strengthening the region's business climate by supporting local businesses. NRV has helped more than a dozen area businesses establish a financial foothold.
"We're interested in building companies here, in growing our own businesses," Ukrop said. "Richmond has lost some great companies that had their headquarters here. We've got to build our own to replace them."
Sometimes Ukrop invests in local businesses on his own, outside the NRV framework. He has backed companies such as Rockin' Baby, which makes designer baby-carrier slings; CarLotz, which sells used cars on consignment; and the Hosteling International USA location that recently opened in downtown Richmond. He is a co-owner of the Quirk Hotel that opened recently at 201 W. Broad St.
Ukrop is also a booster of Maxx Potential, an information technology and services firm based in Richmond's Manchester district. The company prepares apprentices and matches them with companies that need their services.
"It lets you earn while you learn," Ukrop said. He said Maxx Potential's clients become taxpaying wage earners while they help the companies that hire them.
He has served on boards of major area corporations and has led many business, arts and public school initiatives.
Helping businesses get started and training a tech-savvy workforce may seem like daunting tasks, but Ukrop relishes the challenge.
"My brother is the athlete," Ukrop said. "I'm not much of an athlete at all. But I am competitive. When somebody tells me something can't be done, that's what gets me fired up."
Greg Wingfield, who retired this year as president and CEO of the Greater Richmond Partnership, said Ukrop's understanding of the area's economy is a valuable asset.
"Jim was somebody I could go to and get a straight, unvarnished perspective," Wingfield said. "He is respected, a man of his word. I always appreciated his counsel."
Robert C. Sledd, retired chairman and CEO of Performance Food Group, is an adviser to NRV and managing partner of a family commercial real estate company, Sledd Properties. He said Ukrop is "constantly looking for ways to make Richmond a better place."
Sledd said Ukrop "thrives on being a catalyst for positive change, and he brings people along. He encourages people to think about what Richmond should be doing.
"As long as he can breathe," Sledd said, "he'll keep doing that."
IN HIS WORDS
From a 1994 profile in The Times-Dispatch
** "Local businesses really have to provide the leadership because more and more businesses are controlled from outside the community ... (and) they have no emotional investment in the community."
** In the mid-1980s, "I just became more socially conscious, " he said. "I just started thinking ... things aren't going to go away unless people start making things happen." The turning point came, he said, when he read a case study from the Harvard Business School that involved, among other things, diversity in the marketplace. "It was like a light bulb went off," he said. "All of a sudden, it made me realize ... that doing the right thing makes economic sense. The case study said those companies that don't prepare themselves for the future will be at a disadvantage."
JAMES E. "JIM" UKROP
Position: principal, New Richmond Ventures
Born/hometown: July 11, 1937; Richmond
College: College of William and Mary (bachelor's degree)
Family: wife Barbara (Bobbie), sons Scott and Ted