DULUTH - Almost 35 years ago Bob Williamson hitchhiked to Atlanta, without a dime or a college education, and began an arduous climb to business stardom.
His first week in the city he sold a pint of blood for $7, found a room at a YMCA and got a $15-a-week job cleaning bricks.
He later hooked on with Glidden Paints and saw a way to save the company thousands of dollars, displaying the smarts and creativity that propelled him into management and that eventually enabled him to launch several businesses of his own.
Williamson's rags-to-riches journey reached a pinnacle Thursday when he stood before a few hundred of his peers to accept Gwinnett's Small Business Person of the Year award.
"One of the most important ingredients a business person should have is persistence," said Williamson, founder of the 14-year-old Horizon Software International in Loganville.
Williamson was one of five finalists for the more than 20-year-old award, which is given by the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce in Duluth to recognize business owners for personal achievements and their contribution to the local economy.
Other Small Business Person of the Year finalists included:
•Al Karnitz, Ace Truck Body & Trailer Repair
•Bruce Arnett, Carnett's Car Washes
•Roger Green, Green Financial Services
•Brian Perdue, Salon 124 Inc.
Like every entrepreneur, Williamson faced obstacles. And like the best, he found a way to overcome them.
Just as he started Horizon Software, a competitor raided all his computer programmers.
"Only my wife and I were left," Williamson said. "Yet we grew the company."
After the Sept. 11 attacks, corporate air travel dropped significantly - a bad development for a computer services company with customers all over the United States.
"No one wanted to fly," Williamson said. "So we went to see them. It meant a lot for us to show up and say to them face to face that life must go on for this economy."
Horizon has expanded from the basement of Wiliamson's house to 138 employees, and it has received recognition as one of Georgia's fastest-growing technology companies.
Horizon is also a major supporter of charities including Relay for Life and Atlanta's Families First Organization.
Williamson deflected praise for his company's success.
"It's a team," he said. "It's not about me. It's about the people that work there."