Chris Gardner Story

Chris Gardner is an American stockbroker, businessman, motivational speaker, author and philanthropist. The life of Chris Gardner is surely one made for the big screen as he once struggled with financial problems and homelessness while raising his toddler son Christopher Gardner Jr.

From being a single father without any money while living on the streets of San Francisco with his small son, he achieved success with his willpower and perseverance to overcome every obstacle he face and found a successful company.


Chris Gardner was born on February 9, 1954, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Thomas Turner and Bettye Gardner. He was second and only boy born to Bettye Gardner. He does not have a very pleasant childhood as his stepfather was physically abusive to his mother and sisters.

In one incident his mother was falsely imprisoned for welfare fraud and Chris and his sisters were placed in foster care. Although Chris mother has a very unhappy marriage and stays away from him for a long time still she is a positive source of inspiration and strength to her son.

According to Gardner her mother encouraged him to believe in himself and sowed the seeds of self-reliance in him. From his childhood experiences, he is very determined that illiteracy, alcoholism, domestic and child abuse and powerlessness were all things he wanted to avoid in the future.

Teenage and Early Years

As a teenager, Chris had done many odd jobs like washing dishes at a restaurant and attending to elderly patients at a nursing home. Inspired by his maternal uncle Henry’s work in the U.S. Navy, after completing high school at age 18 he joined the US Navy with the hope of seeing the world.

He got posted at the US Navy Hospital Corps School in Great Lakes, Illinois, where he got training in the basics of first-aid. After his stint in the navy, he worked at a research lab in San Francisco with a well-known cardiac surgeon, Dr Robert Ellis and seriously considered getting professionally qualified as a doctor.

During this period to earn some extra bucks he took up painting jobs and also worked part-time as a security guard in the weekends.

Marriage and Troubles

Chris Gardner married Sherry Dyson in 1977 but after three years of marriage, he left her to live in with his pregnant girlfriend Jackie and to prepare for fatherhood. However, he was nowhere close to achieving his dream of making big money when his son Christopher Gardner Jr. was born on January 28, 1981.

Gardner`s position as a research lab assistant paid only about $8,000 a year, which was not enough for him to support his family. So after four years, he decides to quit his current job and take a job as a medical equipment salesman on double salary.

Life-Changing Meeting

A life-changing moment in his life occurred when after a sales call he encountered a very well dressed man in a red Ferrari. Curious Gardner asked the man only two simple questions: What do you do? And how do you do that? The man Bob Bridges told him that he was a stockbroker and he earned $80,000 per month.

From that moment on, Chris Gardner’s career path was decided. Suddenly it dawned on him that this is the job he is looking for that can make him a millionaire. He determined to pursue his goal so he again meets with Bob and asks for his help.

Bob Bridges gave him an introduction to the world of finance and organized meetings between Gardner and the managers of the big stock brokerage firms that offered training programs. For the next two months, Gardner cancelled or postponed all his sales appointments and while these meetings his car fined for many parking violations.


It appeared that Gardner got his “big break” when he was accepted for a training program at E.F. Hutton. To dedicate his time exclusively to training as a stockbroker he quit his sales job but when he appeared at the office ready to work he find out that his hiring manager had been fired the week before.

Gardner’s relationship with his girlfriend Jackie was also falling apart as she took Chris Jr. away to live with her on the East Coast. During this time police has detained him for non-payment of parking fines. He was taken to jail and stay there for ten days as punishment for not being able to pay $1,200 in parking tickets.

When Gardner returned home from the jail he finds his apartment empty. At that time having no experience or any college education and virtually no connections in the financial world, Gardner got a position in Dean Witter Reynolds’ stock brokerage training program.

With almost no savings and his trainee job offered no salary, Gardner only manages to earn only 300 to 400 dollars per month from selling medical equipment and was unable to meet his living expenses.

Fatherhood and Homelessness

During this period he encountered some of the greatest difficulties in his life. Four months after Jackie disappeared with their son she returned and left their son with him. By then, he was earning a small salary but he willingly accepted sole custody of his son.


As a single parent, he had to look after his toddler son but the rooming house where he lived till now did not allow children. None of Gardner’s co-workers knew that he and his son were homeless nearly for a year.

Chris recounts in his book how he was homeless and had slept with his son even in his office after hours, parks, on public transport, airports and even in a locked public bathroom in a railway station on many occasions.

Most of the times they ate in soup kitchens and what little money he earned he spent on his son`s day nursery so he could go to work.

A career as a Stockbroker and Entrepreneur

Gardner worked very hard to become a top trainee at Dean Witter Reynolds. Every day he arrived at the office early and stayed late making calls to prospective clients with his daily goal being 200 calls per day.

In 1982 when Gardner passed his series 7 exam and become fulltime employee of the Bear Stearns & Company all his perseverance and hard work paid off. Finally able to rent a home for himself and his son, his career as a stockbroker then rapidly ascended into the stratosphere.


In 1987, Gardner established his own brokerage firm, Gardner Rich & Co, in Chicago, Illinois. His new company was started in his small apartment with a start-up capital of $10,000 and a single piece of furniture a wooden desk.

In mid-2006 Gardner sold the small stake of his company Gardner Rich in a multimillion-dollar deal. Later he becomes the CEO of Christopher Gardner International Holdings which has offices in New York, San Francisco and Chicago.

The Pursuit of Happyness Movie

Chris Gardner realized that his story had the Hollywood potential after an overwhelming response to an interview he did in January 2002. In 2006 Chris Gardner published his autobiography and become an associate producer of the movie based on his autobiography.


The movie, starring Will Smith and Smith’s son Jaden Smith, majorly focused on Gardner’s nearly one-year struggle with homelessness. According to Gardner the unusual spelling of the film’s title comes from a sign he saw outside the daycare facility Gardner’s son attends when he was homeless.

In the final scene of the movie, Gardner makes a special appearance when while walking past Will and Chris acknowledge each other and walk away.

Read: Jeff Bezos, Success Story of Amazon Founder & Chairman



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