Tom Aiken is a friendly man who admits that he's a big ham.
"Put me in front of a thousand people and I'm fine," he said, smiling. But there's more to this Yale and Georgetown University graduate than just a good laugh and hamming it up.
Aiken and his family moved to Fairhope in 2001 and he started building homes. "I grew up working on my family home in New Orleans. It was an older house," said Aiken.
"When we moved to Fairhope, we bought a house that Skip Jones had just built. I asked him to be my mentor. The first house I built was in the 'fruit and nut' section of Fairhope," he said, referring to the neighborhood with streets bearing names ranging from Fig to Kumquat to Pecan. "I'm obsessive about building quality homes," said Aiken.
Aiken recruited Drew Bond, his best friend from Washington, to be his partner. "I convinced Drew that Fairhope was a great place to raise children. We have similar backgrounds in Washington, D.C.," he said.
The two men met another former Washington resident, Markus Neto, who has helped design their Web site, www.aikenbond.com.
"I met Markus at a chamber of commerce event, saw an image of the Metro in Washington, D.C., on his business card and struck up a conversation," said Aiken.
Before Aiken moved to Baldwin County and started building homes, he had an entirely different life and career.
"I was born and raised in New Orleans. During those days, we kids were allowed to roam free in the neighborhood near Tulane University. I was always riding my bike around," he said.
School work came easily for him, but he admits he could have applied himself more. Drama played a big part of his high school years. For college, Aiken headed to Yale University where his father, a physician, had also attended.
"The first year, I had a double major of pre-med and history. But my pre-med classes were in a building at the end of a long hill. That really bothered me that I had to walk up that hill. I figured if that bothered me, so would other things. I dropped the pre-med major," he said.
In addition to his studies in history, Aiken spent every day as an oarsman on a 60-foot racing shell. "We had one oar per person. Anderson Cooper, the news journalist, was my coxswain; he's a very nice man. This crew was like a fraternity that wasn't centered on drinking," he said.
Aiken also met his wife, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, at Yale. "She is my partner in my business and in my life," he said. "We got married in 1991, but I had joined the Navy in 1990. I saw 'Top Gun,' the movie about a Navy pilot, when I was a senior in college. I decided I wanted to fly jets, and that's what I did. After my discharge in 1993, I went to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., for my master's in business administration. When I graduated, I worked for Allied Capital, a large financial firm, for five years," he said.
Aiken and his family decided to make the move to Baldwin County. He now has time to play golf with his son and his daughter -- one at a time. He has bought a piano -- teaching himself to play -- plays his guitar and sings monthly at his church, St. James Episcopal.