Jim Clayton (Clayton Homes)

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James L. "Jim" Clayton, Sr. (born 1934) is an American entrepreneur who founded Clayton Homes in 1966 and built it into the United States' largest producer and seller of manufactured housing, a publicly traded company that was sold to Berkshire Hathaway in 2003 for $1.7 billion.[1] He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Clayton was born in Finger, Tennessee, the son of a sharecropper. As a child, he aspired to become a country music singer.[1] After high school he went to Memphis to attend college and perform in honky tonks.[2] After becoming ill at the end of the first year, he transferred[2] to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity[3] and received an engineering degree in 1957. He received a law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1964.[4] While a student, he started an informal business of fixing and reselling used cars,[1] establishing a used-car business in 1956. That business grew into a group of Knoxville-area automobile dealerships operated by Jim Clayton and his brother Joe; Jim Clayton sold his interest in the business to Joe in 1981.[3][4]

Clayton branched into the mobile home business in 1966.[1]

Clayton published an autobiography, First a Dream (FSB Press, ISBN 978-0-9726389-0-6), in 2002, cowritten with Bill Retherford. Reportedly, the book motivated Warren Buffett to buy Clayton's company,[3][5] but a 2004 article in Fast Company magazine suggested that the story was not as simple as was widely reported.[1]

Clayton has made many charitable contributions in the Knoxville area, including a $3.25 million donation for construction of the Knoxville Museum of Art; a $1 million donation to the University of Tennessee College of Law for its Center for Entrepreneurial Law; and a $1 million donation to East Tennessee Baptist Hospital to establish the Clayton Birthing Center.[4] He and his wife, Kay Clayton, also made two $1 million donations to Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee, which is near his home town.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e The Ballad of Clayton Homes, By Jennifer Reingold (Illustrations by Christian Clayton), Fast Company, Issue 78, January 2004, Page 76
  2. ^ a b James L. Clayton, Sr., The Horatio Alger Association website (accessed October 23, 2007)
  3. ^ a b c http://www.sigepfoundation.org/resource/resmgr/docs/doud-clayton_endowment_journ.pdf
  4. ^ a b c Remarks Of Sen. Alexander - James L. Clayton, Senator Lamar Alexander, U.S. Senate, April 11, 2003
  5. ^ Jim Clayton
  6. ^ Clayton Homes Inc. Founder Makes Major Gift to Freed-Hardeman University, Freed-Hardeman University press release, 10/26/05

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