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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Overcoming drugs, homelessness and bad employees to become a multi-millionaire

Bob Williamson was told as a kid he’d never amount to anything. He was a drug addict on the streets after he graduated high school. He stayed in missions and was in jail several times. After nearly dying from a head on collision, he began reading the bible in the hospital and became a Christian. Then he met his wife. That was 37 years ago.

After recovering he went to work in the label room for Glidden paint. He worked his way up and within two years was managing special projects. In his extra time, Bob was a wildlife artist. He realized there wasn’t a good airbrush paint on the market so he spent a couple years developing one. He brought his airbrush paint to an art show and people were lined up to buy it. Within six months he had distributors nationwide for his products. The company, Wildlife Artist Supply, was founded in 1977 in Bob’s basement, then grew to a huge warehouse. The company offered several thousand supplies for artists. Eleven years later, Bob made a deal to take the company public, and the next day his controller resigned. Several other employees offered their resignations at the same time. Bob discovered the company was over a million dollars in debt and they were overdrawn at the bank. Bob spent the next two years trying to get the former employee to pay him back, but never recovered the money.

Bob’s sons were computer programmers and he had several other good programmers working for him, so he decided to change his focus. Since the company had developed some good warehousing software, Bob tried to sell it. He thought the software sales would come quickly to him like the paint sales did. However, he soon realized there was tough competition in this arena. He needed a niche. One of his reps sold systems to school lunchrooms and while going on a call with his rep, Bob discovered there was a huge need for distribution software in schools. He modified the software to work in schools, hired salespeople who couldn’t sell the software. Bob believed in the product so he decided to sell the software himself, took out a home equity loan to finance his new company, and put the rest on his credit cards. This was back in 1993, when they had just four employees. The software was modified to include hospitals, nursing homes, and universities. The software manages food inventories and sales. People can now buy food from vending machines from a prepaid credit card, parents can go online and see what their kids ate that day. The company has been growing rapidly in size. Today, Horizon Software has over $26 million in sales and 173 employees, and over 15,000 installations.