Harry Leonidas Gilham Jr., founder of one of the industry’s best-known and most successful retail showrooms Georgia Lighting and later World Imports Co., died February 2 at age 84 from complications after a heart attack at an Atlanta hospital.
Gilham graduated from Emory University’s business school in Atlanta with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. A Navy veteran, he learned the lighting showroom business from the ground up while working at a plumbing showroom and later heading up its small lighting department. At the age of 30, he launched Georgia Lighting as a retail store and later established World Imports Co. at a time when flying to Europe to bring back lighting fixtures to sell in the U.S. wasn’t common.
According to the International Business Times, Gilham’s business grew to become the second largest lighting company in the U.S., with annual sales of nearly $40 million in 1998. He served as president of both companies for more than 40 years. In 1999, when Gilham was in his late 60s and ready to retire, he agreed to sell his company to The Home Depot, also headquartered in the Atlanta area. At the time, the home improvement giant was under the leadership of co-founder and co-chairman Arthur Blank. Under the agreement, Gilham remained president of Georgia Lighting and helped The Home Depot grow its lighting and ceiling fan business. Years later, when Home Depot was headed by Robert Nardelli, the partnership deteriorated and Georgia Lighting was dissolved.
Gilham has received numerous business awards over his 40 years in the industry, including accolades from the American Lighting Association (ALA) as well as Emory University’s business school.
He is survived by his wife, Caroline; daughters Anna Gilham McGarrity and Jean Gilham Kirby; and five grandchildren.