Tommy B. Baker, owner and president of Baker Motor Company with award-winning dealerships in Charleston, Mount Pleasant and Wilmington, N.C.; received the nomination for TIME Dealer of the Year in October 2019 by TIME, in partnership with Ally. Mr. Baker was chosen to represent the South Carolina Automobile Dealers Association in the national competition out of more than 360 dealers in the state – one of only 49 auto dealers nominated for the 51st annual award from more than 16,000 nationwide.
Baker is one of a select group of 49 dealer nominees from across the country who will be honored at the 103rd annual National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Show in Las Vegas on Feb. 15, 2020. The TIME Dealer of the Year award is one of the automobile industry’s most prestigious and highly coveted honors. Recipients are among the nation’s most successful auto dealers who also demonstrate a long-standing commitment to community service.
“My career in the automotive industry has afforded me the opportunity to contribute fiercely to the Charleston community,” Baker said. “Through my business, I have met countless friends and colleagues with a shared goal of serving our city and its people.”
Baker, a native of the Charleston area, graduated from General William Moultrie High School in Mount Pleasant in 1964 and then served in the United States Marines Corps for four years, which took him to Okinawa, Japan. He returned home and attended The Citadel (Military College of South Carolina) in Charleston, Class of 1972.
While attending The Citadel, Baker took a job at James Oldsmobile in Charleston which set him on a career course in the retail automotive field. He moved to North Carolina after college to pursue opportunities in the car business.
“In North Carolina, I met my mentor, Bill Johnson, whose guidance was paramount in my success,” he said.
In 1988, Baker returned to Charleston and founded Baker Motor Company, originally a Mercedes-Benz dealership. Today, that main campus is comprised of ten luxury brands and Baker’s portfolio of dealerships also includes BMW of Wilmington and Porsche Wilmington (North Carolina); Baker Buick GMC Cadillac in Charleston; and Mercedes-Benz of Mount Pleasant.
Baker’s deep affection for Charleston is legendary. He has committed his time and resources to a range of initiatives that improve the quality of life. “I have been able to partner with our community to mentor students, contribute to higher education and forward the principles of entrepreneurship, bring our city into the national spotlight, protect our environment, build a life-changing children's hospital, preserve local history, support our troops, honor our veterans and subsidize medical research,” he said.
One project that is close to his heart is the establishment of the Tommy & Victoria Baker School of Business at The Citadel in 2017. His substantial gift to his alma mater has enhanced veteran, cadet and student business education.
“The education I received at The Citadel & The Harvard President/Owner Program reinforced the discipline I learned in the U.S. Marine Corps, which together laid the groundwork for any business success I have experienced,” Baker said. “By giving back in this way, Victoria and I hope to provide future Citadel cadets and veteran students with opportunities for success while producing principled entrepreneurs.”
As further testament to Baker’s commitment to The Citadel, he established the Baker Veteran Fellowship in 2014, where he received an honorary doctorate of commerce in May 2015, was inducted into The Citadel School of Business Hall of Fame in April 2016 and currently serves on The Citadel Foundation Board.
Baker is equally committed to the College of Charleston School of Business, where he taught entrepreneurship for 22 years and serves on the school’s Board of Governors. In appreciation of his leadership, service and philanthropy, Baker received an honorary doctorate of humane letters in 1995 and he and his wife, Victoria, were commemorated on the business school’s Wall of Honor in 2011.
Recently, he was at the forefront of raising capital to complete the MUSC (Medical University of South Carolina) Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, where he is also a member of the advisory board. And he is founder and chairman of Beacon Community Bank, which he established to provide resources to local residents and small businesses.
Other organizations and initiatives that Baker supports include American Heart Association Lowcountry Heart Walk; YEScarolina/Youth Entrepreneurship South Carolina (founding board member of this nonprofit that teaches entrepreneurship skills to students to enhance their economic productivity); Spirit of South Carolina (preserves replica tall ship for educational purposes) and Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (serves on the board of this three-day event that celebrates wildlife and nature), to name a few.
While Baker has received numerous awards for his philanthropic work, he is most proud of being named the number one dealership in Automotive News’ 100 Best Dealerships to Work For in 2015 in the US and Canada. “Knowing that our employees, in a confidential survey, would confirm that our compensation structure, benefits, work environment, internal awards and communications exceed their expectations is our greatest achievement,” he said.
Dealers are nominated by the executives of state and metro dealer associations around the country. The award is sponsored by TIME in association with Ally Financial, and in cooperation with NADA. A panel of faculty members from the Tauber Institute for Global Operations at the University of Michigan will select one finalist from each of the four NADA regions and one national Dealer of the Year. Three finalists will receive an additional $5,000 for their favorite charities and the winner will receive an additional $10,000 to give to charity.
In its ninth year as exclusive sponsor, Ally will recognize dealer nominees and their community efforts by contributing $1,000 to each nominee’s non-profit charity of choice. Nominees will also be recognized on AllyDealerHeroes.com, which highlights the philanthropic contributions and achievements of TIME Dealer of the Year nominees.
“The award applauds the incredible effort each of these dealers put into their businesses and their communities,” said Doug Timmerman, president of Auto Finance at Ally. “They are influential business leaders and admired ambassadors for worthy causes. It’s an honor for Ally to recognize their generosity and impact in cities and towns across America.”
Baker was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by E. Sims Floyd Jr., executive vice president of the South Carolina Automobile Dealers Association.
“Regardless of the outcome, I’m honored and deeply humbled to be nominated and to represent the dealers in the state of South Carolina," Baker said.