“Don’t ever let someone tell you you can’t do something. Not even me.”
– Christopher Gardner to his son, The Pursuit of Happyness
The Pursuit of Happyness
We all know the famous movie The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith. In the story, salesman Chris Gardner invests in bone-density scanners using his family savings. The trouble he faces trying to sell the scanners leads to financial troubles, tearing apart his family. His wife Linda leaves him to go toNew York while their son Chrisopher stays with Chris to take care of him. The story talks about Chris’s pursuit of becoming a stockbroker at Dean Witter. In the process, he becomes homeless since he is unable to pay for his rent. However, his dedication to pursue a promising career to provide for him and his son leads him leads him to pursue his goal of succeeding in the financial world.
The True Story
Christopher Paul Gardner was born in 1954 in Milwaukee. Growing up, Chris had a tough childhood as his father resided in Louisiana while his stepfather was abusive towards him and his mother and siblings. His mother was often absent during this time. However, she inspired Chris by encouraging him to be confident and to develop independence. Although an unhappy and unstable childhood, Chris knew early on what he did not want: abuse, fear and alcoholism.
Throughout Chris’s teenage years and early adulthood, he become familiar with the works of strong black male role models such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. He developed a sense of pride in himself. However, his view expanded beyond that of African Americans; he familiarized himself with major events surrounding Africans and racism globally, including the apartheid inSouth Africa.
The U.S. Navy
After Chris finished high school, he decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy, largely due to the influence of his uncle’s positive experiences in the Navy. For four years, Chris was a corspman atCampLejeuneinNorth Carolina. It was here that he met Dr. Robert Ellis, a cardiac surgeon fromSan Francisco. Dr. Ellis offered Chris an opportunity to help him in clinical research at the University of California Medical Center inSan Francisco,California. He became a medical research associate.
Marriage and Family Life
Chris married Sherry Dyson, a mathematics expert, on June 18, 1977. With Chris’s experience in medicine, he initially had plans of becoming a doctor. However, he was given advice that it would be better to consider something different due to vastly different changes in the health care field that would occur over the time that it would take for Chris to undergo medical training. His decision to look at other options besides medical training led to conflicts and relationship troubles with Sherry. He become romantically involved with Jackie Medina, a dental student, who then became pregnant with their son within a few months. Chris decided to leave Sherry and moved in with Jackie, who was preparing for parenthood. He and Sherry legally divorced in 1986.
Chris and Jackie’s son Christopher Gardner Jr. was born in 1981. Due to the low salary of his position as a lab assistant of $8,000, he decided to quit and become a salesman, selling medical equipment. At age 28, Chris met his biological father for the first time inLouisiana. He tracked down his father using the telephone and used money from the income of his new job.
The Move to Finance
Chris Gardner’s first spark of interest in business occurred when he saw a well-dressed man in a Ferrari. Chris asked the stranger what he did for a living. The man said that he was a stock broker, which made Chris interested in pursuing a career in stock brokerage. This man turned out to be Bob Bridges, who then introduced Chris to finance. Bridges helped Chris by organizing meetings betweenGardnerand contacts at major brokerage firms such as Merrill Lynch, Dean Witter Reynolds and Smith Barney. During this time, Chris would cancel or postpone meetings to meet with managers at these firms.
Chris was accepted as a trainee at E.F. Hutton, an American stock brokerage firm. However, things took a turn for the worse when he quit his sales job only to find that the manager who had hired him had been hired. In his personal life, his girlfriend accused him of beating her, which Chris still denies today, and left him, taking their son with her. He went to jail for ten days since he was unable to pay $1,200 in parking tickets that he had acquired when he parked his car while meeting with managers. He then gained a position in Dean Witter Reynolds as a trainee. However, due to low income, he was unable to live in his apartment and became homeless.
Chris worked diligently during his time at Dean Witter Reynolds, making it a goal to reach 200 calls or over per day. In 1982, he passed his licensing exam on his first attempt and starting working full time. In 1983, he then worked at Bear Stearns & Co.
Chris's Son Returns
Meanwhile, Jackie came back four months later, only to leave Chris with their son. Chris and his son tried to room in a rooming house while he saved money for a rental home. However, the house did not allow children, leaving Chris and his son homeless. This period was very tough for Chris and his son, as he stood in line for soup and slept in various places, such as parks, his office and bathrooms. Chris then asked Reverend Cecil Williams if they could stay at the shelter for homeless women, which was provided by the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church due to Chris’s concern for his son. Reverend Cecil agreed.
The Final Part - Happiness
Eventually, Chris Gardner became a top earner at Bear Stearns and left in 1987 to form his own brokerage firm, Gardner Rich & Co. inChicagowith $10,000. Gardner Rich & Co. specializes in providing debt, equity and derivative products for major institutions, pension plans and unions in theU.S.He has 75% ownership of the firm, while a hedge fund owns 25%.
In 2006, he sold his stake in the company for millions of dollars. He then went on to found Christopher Gardner International Holdings, which has offices in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. He is currently in the process of creating an investment venture in South African to create jobs and introduce large amounts of foreign currency.
Outside of his work, he is also a philanthropist, helping to fund projects to create opportunities for employment and basic living care for the unemployed and homeless.
Today, Chris has two children and lives inChicago and New York.