Chris Gardner: THE MAN WHO DARED TO PURSUE HAPPINESS

PHOTO: thecityinfluencer

PHOTO: thecityinfluencer

Gardner was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on February 9, 1954. Gardner had a troubled childhood. His father was living in Louisiana during his birth, and his stepfather was physically abusive to his mother and his siblings.

When Gardner was eight years old, he and his sisters returned to foster care a second time when their mother was convicted of trying to kill their step-father by burning down the house while he was still inside.

Despite her very unhappy marriage and her periods of absence, his mother was a source of inspiration and strength to Chris Gardner. She encouraged Gardner to believe in himself and sowed the seeds of self-reliance in him.

Gardner decided to enlist into the Navy when he finished secondary school. He was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for four years, where he was a corpsman. He became acquainted with a decorated San Francisco cardiac surgeon, Dr. Robert Ellis, who offered Gardner a position assisting him with innovative clinical research at the University of California Medical Center and Veterans Administration Hospital in San Francisco. Gardner accepted the position, and moved to San Francisco upon his discharge from the Navy in 1974.

Over the course of two years, he learned how to manage a laboratory and to perform various surgical techniques. By 1976, he had been given full responsibility for a laboratory and had co-authored several articles with Dr. Ellis which got published in medical journals.

On June 18, 1977, Chris Gardner married Sherry Dyson. His relationship with Sherry was troubled, due to the fact that he decided to abandon a medical career and also due to differences in their behavior. While still living with Sherry, he began an affair with a dental student named Jackie Medina, and she became pregnant with his child only a few months into the affair. After three years of marriage to Sherry, he left her to move in with Jackie and to prepare for fatherhood. He divorced Sherry Dyson in 1986.

His son, Christopher Jarrett Medina Gardner Jr., was born on January 28, 1981. Gardner worked as a research lab assistant at UCSF and at the Veterans’ Hospital after leaving the service. His position as a research lab assistant paid only about $8,000 a year, which was not enough for him to support a live-in girlfriend and a child. After four years, he quit these jobs and doubled his salary by taking a job as a medical equipment salesman.

Gardner returned to San Francisco determined to succeed at business. An important moment in his life occurred, after a sales call to a San Francisco General Hospital, when he came across a neatly dressed man in a red Ferrari sports car. Curious, Gardner asked the man about his career. The man told him he was a stockbroker and, from that moment on, Gardner’s career path was decided (he made up his mind to become a stockbroker too). The stockbroker in the red Ferrari was a man named Bob Bridges. He met with Gardner and gave him an introduction to the world of finance. Bridges organized meetings between Gardner and branch managers at the major stock brokerage firms that offered training programs—such as Merrill Lynch, Paine Webber, E.F. Hutton, Dean Witter Reynolds and Smith Barney. For the following two months, Gardner cancelled or postponed his sales appointments and his car amassed parking tickets while he met with managers.

It appeared that Gardner got his opportunity when he was accepted into a training program at E.F. Hutton. He later quit his sales job so that he could dedicate his time exclusively to training as a stockbroker. To make matters worse, Gardner’s relationship with Jackie was falling apart. She accused him of beating her and left him, taking their son with her to the East Coast. He was taken to jail and a judge ordered that he stayed there, for ten days, as punishment for being unable to pay $1,200 in parking tickets. When he returned home from jail to find out that his girlfriend had left him with his son and everything in his apartment. With no experience, no college education, virtually no connections, and with the same casual outfit he had been wearing on the day he was taken into custody, Gardner gained a position in Dean Witter Reynolds’ stock brokerage training program. However, this offered no salary; apart from selling medical equipment that brought in 300-400 dollars a month in the early 1980s, and with no savings, he was unable to meet his living expenses.

Gardner worked to become a top trainee at Dean Witter Reynolds. He arrived at the office early and stayed late each day, persistently making calls to prospective clients with his goal being 200 calls per day. His perseverance paid off when, in 1982, Gardner passed his Series 7 Exam on the first try and became a full employee of the firm. Eventually, Gardner was recruited by Bear Stearns & Company in San Francisco. About four months after Jackie disappeared with their son, she returned and left him with Gardner. By then, he was earning a small salary and was able to afford rooming. He willingly accepted sole custody of his child; however, the rooming house where he lived did not allow children. Gardner and his son secretly struggled with homelessness while he saved money for a rental house in Berkeley.

Gardner often scrambled to place his child in daycare, stood in soup kitchens and slept wherever he and his son could find safety in his office after hours, at sleepover-houses, motels, parks, airports, on public transport and even in a locked bathroom at a bus station. Concerned for Chris Jr.’s well-being, Gardner asked Reverend Cecil Williams to allow them to stay at the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church’s shelter for homeless women, now known as The Cecil Williams Glide Community House. Williams agreed without hesitation.

In 1987, Gardner established the brokerage firm, Gardner Rich & Co, in Chicago, Illinois. His new company was started in his small Presidential Towers apartment, with start-up capital of $10,000 and a single piece of furniture: a wooden desk that doubled as the family dinner table. Gardner reportedly owns 75 percent of his stock brokerage firm with the rest owned by a hedge fund.

After Gardner sold his small stake in Gardner Rich in a multi-million dollar deal in 2006, he became CEO and founder of Christopher Gardner International Holdings, with offices in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

His book, THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS has been made into a major hollywood movie, with the same name starring the American actor



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