By Greg Gelpi
Before he even graduated from college, he started his real estate career, and before he turned 30 he planned out the rest of his life.
Clayton County developer Jim Baker changed the face of the Southern Crescent and continues to do so. He has developed property well exceeding $100 million in Clayton County alone and is working on plans for a mall in Henry County.
"I was from a meager background," Baker said, reflecting on growing up in Hapeville. "We didn't really come from wealth."
Life is a collection of experiences, and Baker said he is a collection of the people he has met through those experiences.
Enrolling at Clayton Junior College in 1970 following high school, he attended college, as do many, not knowing what he wanted to do.
"I'm just a lucky guy who went to Clayton Junior College and met a lot of great people along the way," Baker said. "I have been blessed by all the people I have come in contact with in my life."
Having dinner with a family friend changed his life, Baker said. Blaise Dantone asked him what he wanted to do with his life. When he replied that he wasn't sure yet, Dantone recommended the real estate business.
"Most people when they're young don't realize that youth is a great asset," Baker said. "It's interesting how life happens so quickly."
Taking junior college classes during the day, Baker took real estate classes from the Georgia Institute of Real Estate at night.
In his first month of selling real estate for Tri-City Realty, he sold $4,000 in property and was named the agent of the month, he said.
"The key to making something happen is to put your left foot down then your right then your left then your right and keep doing it," Baker said "You'll either run into a wall or make something happen."
His passion for real estate grew and in 1979 he shifted to long range planning and developing property, rather than simply buying and selling property. Baker purchased 210 acres on Ga. Highway 54 and developed the Atlanta Southern Business Park.
Baker also started the Chaseland Corporation, developing business complexes, strip malls and apartments. In 1986, he partnered with Henry Lassiter.
Other developments include Eagle's Landing, many apartments with the name "Chase" and the area's first Buckhead-style office complex, Corporate Center on Mt. Zion Road.
Clayton College & State University recognized Baker as its Alumni of the Year for his accomplishments and continued support of the university.
Gene Hatfield, the head of the Department of Social Sciences and the university's honors program, taught Baker in 1976 and nominated him for the honor.
"I have followed his career with interest all these years and saw him become very successful," Hatfield said. "I think Jim has succeeded considerably in his chosen field, which is very competitive."
More than a successful businessman, Baker is a valued member of the community as well, he said.
"I have found too that Jim has always been helping in the community," Hatfield said. "I think Jim recognizes that the community must prosper in order for business to prosper."
Baker is married and has two children, Jay, who is also in development, and Ashley, who is in law school.