James “Jim” Clayton Sr. 

UT Knoxville, ’57, ’64

The Clayton name is literally a household word in East Tennessee.

Clayton Homes founder Jim Clayton Sr. was born in 1934 on a sharecropper farm in a log cabin lacking plumbing or electricity in Finger, Tennessee. As a boy, he earned 25 cents a day driving farm mules in cotton fields.

Clayton started college in Memphis while trying to pursue a singing career. He eventually transferred to UT Knoxville, where he graduated from what is now the Tickle College of Engineering in 1957. He returned to earn a UT law degree in 1964.

“I had—and continue to have—a great relationship with UT,” Clayton says. “The experiences I had and the friends I made in the college of engineering, the college of law and Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity have served me well in business and life.”

Clayton founded Clayton Homes in 1956 and built it into the country’s largest producer and seller of manufactured housing. Now headquartered in Maryville, Tennessee, Clayton Homes includes subsidiaries Vanderbilt Mortgage, 21st Mortgage and insurance company HomeFirst Agency.

In 2002—one year before selling his company to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway—Clayton published an autobiography, First a Dream.

Clayton founded and serves as director and chairman of Clayton Bancorp, a $706 million multi-bank holding company in Knoxville. He has been included on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans 10 times since 1991. Clayton was inducted into the Horatio Alger Organization of Distinguished Americans in 1991.

Clayton’s donation to UT’s College of Law helped establish the Clayton Center for Entrepreneurial Law. He also serves on the UT Alumni Board of Directors.

Part of the Tennessee Alumnus100 Distinguished Alumni feature.