When Chris Gardner and his young son were sleeping on the rough floor of a public toilet, he could never have dreamt that his life story would be turned into a Hollywood hit movie.
It was back in the early 1980’s that Mr. Gardner, then 27, and his toddler son were homeless for a year in San Francisco.
Although Gardner lacked a college degree, and the pedigree and social connections for any white-collar job, he knocked on doors for several months and finally landed a spot in the Dean Witter Reynolds training program. The trainee’s stipend barely paid for food, let alone rent. In the meantime, his girlfriend left him and their toddler, Chris Jr. With determination, Gardner clung to his goal of financial independence, working hard during the day while spending his nights trying to arrange for child care, food and shelter. When they were lucky enough to find space, they slept at the Glide Memorial Church shelter; otherwise, they huddled in a locked bathroom at an Oakland subway station. At the conclusion of the training program, Gardner was the sole trainee chosen for a permanent position with Dean Witter Reynolds.
“Staying motivated isn’t a challenge for me,” he says today. “When I think about all I want to accomplish, despite all my successes, I haven’t even made a dent in what’s possible. Opportunity is as vast as the sky.”
After a couple years with Dean Witter Reynolds, he took a position with Bear Stearns & Co., where he became a top earner. In 1987, he founded his own brokerage firm, Gardner Rich & Co., in Chicago, which he then transformed into Christopher Gardner International Holdings, an institutional brokerage firm that also directs projects overseas, primarily in South Africa.
Six years after the release of the movie, Mr. Gardner’s life changed again in 2012 when his wife died from cancer at young age of 55. It made him re-evaluate what he wanted to do for a living, and after three highly successful decades in finance, he decided on a complete career change.
“Some of the last conversations [my wife and I] had were her saying to me, ‘Now that we can see how truly short life can be, what will you do with the rest of your life?’ “When you have that conversation, that changes everything. I’ve said that if you’re not doing something that you’re passionate about, you’re compromising yourself every single day.”
So, realizing that he didn’t want to work in investment banking any longer, he reinvented himself as a motivational speaker and author. He now spends 200 days a year travelling the world speaking to packed audiences in more than 50 countries.
Mr. Gardner believes he disproves the theory that we are all products of our childhood environment. “According to that school of thought, I should have become another alcoholic, wife-beating, child-abusing, illiterate loser.” Instead, he says, he made his own positive choices thanks to the love of his mother and support from other people.
“I chose light, from my mother, and from others with whom I don’t share a single drop of blood, and I embraced it.”
Fortitude. Determination. Passion. Pursuit.
Lead The Way!