True Inspiration: Gardner Shares Personal Journey of Resilience and Triumph
Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007
By Leona Dalavai Scott, Editor-in-Chief
Chris Gardner, author and philanthropist, shared his very personal story of overcoming great adversity to become a successful stockbroker during his hour-long keynote address held during Thursday morning’s general session at the 25th annual NACE.
Gardner took NACE attendees through a riveting journey, sharing details of how he became homeless with his toddler son, all while pursuing a dream of becoming a stockbroker. Gardner, whose amazing story was chronicled in his autobiography, “Pursuit of Happyness,” was also the inspiration for the movie “Pursuit of Happyness,” starring Will Smith. The book became a New York Times No. 1 bestseller, and the film – seen by 500 million moviegoers – spent nine weeks at No. 1 at the box office.
Gardner told attendees that many people ask him how became homeless, to which he replies, “Life happens,” and then told his story, outlining the circumstances that led to his employment struggles and even a 10-day stay in jail for unpaid parking tickets.
The chief motivating factor to succeed was Gardner’s love and commitment to his son who was just 14 months. Gardner said that not knowing his own father, he made a promise to himself that when he became a father one day, his children would know who he is. Today, Gardner is a dad to a grown son and daughter who he had with his ex-wife.
He told attendees that he was determined to break unhealthy cycles in his life and was committed to his role as a father – even when he had no money to feed his son, let alone have a place to call home. Gardner and his son spent many nights in the bathroom of a Bay Area Rapid Transit station in Oakland, Calif., where he lived.
Gardner said that desire to become a stockbroker began when one day he saw a man getting out of a red Ferrari. He stopped to ask him what he did for a living. The man told him that he was a stockbroker, and Gardner found out he made $80,000 per month.
From that point, Gardner pursued his dream of becoming a stockbroker and won a coveted position in a Dean Witter Reynolds training program. He eventually worked his way up the ladder, making 200 calls a day to gain clients. At one point during his address, Gardner held up his two index fingers, so attendees could see how one was normal and the other one became slightly altered as a result of making so many phone calls. At every turn during his journey, Gardner encountered obstacle after obstacle.
Determined to succeed, Gardner eventually worked his way to Bear Stearns & Company, where he became a top performer. After Bear Stearns, he went on to open his own brokerage firm, Gardner Rich & Co.
Gardner related that Dr. Maya Angelou once told him that his story is not really about him: “She told me that my story is really about every father who has had to be a mother and every mother who has had to be a father,” said Gardner. Gardner said that he is most proud that he broke a cycle in his life and that this will benefit his family for generations to come.