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Christopher Gardner

The Pursuit of Happiness

Christopher Gardner

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Russ has an inspirational onsite conversation with Chris Gardner, owner and CEO of Christopher Gardner International Holdings and protagonist of the 2006 motion picture The Pursuit of Happiness, starring Will Smith. Chris tributes his success and perseverance over his struggles to his mama and a refusal to quit. He shares with us his belief in Spiritual Genetics, a choice everyone has.

Full Interview text

Russ: I'm Russ Capper and it's featured guest time on The BuisnessMakers Show and this morning we're doing an on the road interview. I'm in downtown Chicago at 401 South Financial Place at the headquarters of Gardner Rich and Company and my guest this morning is the man who's life has been depicted in the very popular movie Pursuit Of Happyness and the bestselling book by the same name. Chris Gardner, founder and CEO of Gardner Ridge and Company. Chris thanks for having me, welcome to The BuisnessMakers Show.

Christopher: No Russ, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Russ: Well I think as you know in The BuisnessMakers Show we champion entrepreneurship and the one personality trait that we've found to make more difference than any is perseverance and determination and I gotta tell you Chris, I think you rank number one in that category. What do you attribute that to?

Christopher: I got anything positive in me especially those two characteristics, I got them from my Mama.

Russ: Tell us about your Mama.

Christopher: Well my Mama unfortunately had too many of her own dreams denied, deferred, and destroyed but she still instilled in me, her child, that I could have dreams and I just have dreams but have the responsibility and the power and that gets into this next book we're working on. We're exploring this concept that I'm calling spiritual genetics.

Russ: Spiritual genetics? That sounds interesting.

Christopher: No we all understand genetics. You would get your mom's, your dad's nose, nothing you can do about it.

Russ: Right.

Christopher: But I believe you can choose, you can embrace the soul of who you want to be as a person. Not whether you want to be a doctor or a lawyer or an indian chief but what kind of person you will be. Okay? I believe you can choose that. This whole idea of the film, as good as it is the film is about one year in my life. I'm so thankful I had a chance to do the book. Because in the book I can go into well why was it important? Where did I get this stuff from? Why did it matter to me? Who was I? Where was my spiritual genetics?

Russ: The Hollywood version of your life seemed to start out at what many might describe as the very bottom. But you mentioned your book and after reading your book I had to conclude that there were many points that were even lower then where the movie started out. Man, you had a tough life.

Christopher: But you know what? We're doing alright now and that is again, back to that concept of spiritual genetics refusing to be beaten down. Refusing to quit. One of the things of nothing else, I'm so thankful my son got, both of my children, my son and my daughter, its okay to fail. Its not okay to quit.

Russ: Well I know from the book too that there were really sort of two moments in your past. One certainly attributable to your mother and one sort of attributable to a red car that you seemed to hang on for your whole journey. Share with our listeners those two points and how they affected you.

Christopher: Getting ready to watch a college basketball game in C double A finally four and the announcer is hyping the game and talking about how great the players were, how much talent they had, and how much money they were going to make simply because they can run and jump and catch a ball.

Russ: And one of them was Artis Gilmore?

Christopher: Artis Gilmore and the other one was a guy named Pimbrook Burells the III.

Russ: Okay.

Christopher: University of Jacksonville, first time they had two seven foot tall players on one team at one time and I remember sitting there and listening to all this hype and I said out loud to nobody, "Wow, one day that guy is gonna make a million dollars." Thank God my mother heard me. Thank God she heard me because she said, "Baby you know what? If you want to one day you can make a million dollars."

Russ: And that stuck with you right?

Christopher: Until she said those words it never entered my mind as a possibility, but after she said them it was just a matter of finding the right venue and the first time I walked into a Wall Street Trading room I knew, this is the place. This is it.

Russ: Your mom telling you, you could be a millionare. And the other one occurred much later in life. I think you were twenty-six, twenty-seven and it was in a parking lot in San Fransisco.

Christopher: Yes sir.

Russ: And that moment made it into the movie, pretty significantly.

Christopher: It did and you know what? The funny thing about that moment making it into the movie? The first time they shot it I told them, "No, no, no. Wrong." And they shot it as they wanted to.

Russ: Right.

Christopher: Okay? On the last day of shooting, our director, Gabriele Muccino comes up to me and says, "Chris, Chris, Chris, you were right. It doesn't work." But he came to me and said, "You were right. We gotta do this scene over," and that scene, on that day I'll never forget it. I will never forget it. I saw a guy who was absolutely the sharpest guy I had ever seen in my life. He was driving around in this gorgeous red Ferrari and he was looking for some place to park. I went over to him and said, "You know what? I'm coming out, you can have my parking place but I gotta ask you two questions. What do you do and how do you do that?" Turns out this guy was a stock broker and that was it. That was the beginning of my life changing.

Russ: And that was Bob Bridges?

Christopher: Bob Bridges, yes sir.

Russ: And he ended up helping you beyond just telling you right there, he went to lunch with you?

Christopher: We developed a relationship and I would sit in his office and just ask all these questions about, "What is it a stock broker do? And why do people do buisness with you and what do you do that makes them want to do buisness with you? And I mean there are a lot of guys out here, but why do they pick you?"

Russ: Good questions.

Christopher: Right?

Russ: Good questions.

Christopher: And I would sit there and I would just be fascinated and he introduced me to some friends of his and again, the first time I walked into a Wall Street Trading room, I knew. This is it.

Russ: Are you in touch with Bob Bridges today?

Christopher: You know, if Bob as I understand it correctly is retired, he's bought an island someplace in the Caribbean and he's working on his tan.

Russ: Oh my goodness. That sounds good.

Christopher: And that's alright.

Russ: Well, we'll be back with more with Chris Gardner after this.

[Aflac Commercial]

Russ: We're in our featured guest segment and my guest this morning is none other then Chris Gardner and Chris before we broke you were sharing with us, a couple of key moments in your life.

Christopher: Well, you know what? Back again to my mom. I remember a young guy and I had one of them old fashioned country mama's who taught me, and I believe, that I could do or be anything I wanted to do or be. I believed it and I made up my mind. My first ambition in life I was going to be Miles Davis.

Russ: Miles Davis?

Christopher: I was going to be Miles Davis. I studied trumpet for nine years, I got pretty good and one day my mama had heard enough of this "I'm going to be Miles Davis stuff" and we sat down and had what I called the talk.

Russ: How old were you?

Christopher: I was eighteen and she explained to me, she said, "Baby, you pretty good with that thing but you can't be Miles Davis. Ain't but one and he got that job." And when your mama put it to you like that Russ, you feel that.

Russ: Yeah.

Christopher: Right? And I remembered I saw down and I thought about it and I had to look at the facts. At eighteen, Miles Davis was in New York City playing with Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. At the same age I was playing with some boys named Pookie and Ray Ray.

Russ: I remember there's a section in there too about you were convinced maybe you could be an actor and she had some interesting comments about that.

Christopher: Oh man. You know what makes it so funny, that one little brief cameo that I did in the film as a young guy I decided, I'm going to be an actor. I'm going to be an actor. I don't have to go to college, I'm going to be an artist, I'm going to act. And one night I'm getting ready to go to the movies with my friends and I ask my mom for five bucks, she was sitting, reading the paper, she didn't even look up and she said, "Why don't you act like you got five bucks?"

Russ: Those two examples, Miles Davis and acting, in my opinion really sort of set the real world in front of you and kind of said those two might not be great careers. Its amazing, the positive influence she had on you, in an environment Chris, that I gotta tell you, in the book, you know its not part of the movie, but in the book.. man. It sounds like you and your sisters and your mom, boy you guys had some tough, tough times. You had a step-father that was rough on everybody and yet your mom still had such an incredible positive influence on you.

Christopher: But you see, that again goes back to this whole of spiritual genetics. I could've embraced the spirit of my step-father. I could have become another alcoholic, wife beatin, child abusing, illiterate, loser and a lot of people would have said, "Well look where he's from. Poor Chris, he didn't have a choice." To that Russ, I say that's B.S. I did have a choice. I chose again, to embrace the light, galatheus five tells us that we are all born with a spirit that allows us to embrace God, whatever you conceive God to be. But that same spirit can embrace the darkness. I chose the light.

Russ: We'll be back with more Chris Gardner after this.

[Aflac Commercial]

Russ: We're talking to Chris Gardner, founder and CEO of Gardner Rich and Company and I gotta tell our listeners that if you haven't seen the movie you need to see it. Pursuit Of Happiness. And if you've seen the movie and you haven't read the book you need to read the book. There's so many cool chapters in the book. Specifically Chris, when you talk about, you know, really knowing that you'd found your venue, when you walked into a brokerage office I know you still had a pretty significant rough start. I think you brought in Murphy's Law to describe it. Share with our listeners that story.

Christopher: After interviewing for a year I finally wore one branch manager down who says to me, "Based on persistence alone, we gonna give you a shot." Quit my job as a sales rep for a scientific company. I went home and I let my ex know who had not been supportive. Show up on the appointed day and time only to find out the guy who had made the commitment had been fired. You laugh or not Russ that was not funny at the time!

Russ: I know it wasn't. So you quit your job, you told your lady and suddenly the job that you were talking about and thought you were going to show up didn't exist. So, what happened next?

Christopher: Well, things got tense at home. Everything possible that could go wrong went wrong at the worst possible time. I was taken to jail for parking tickets. I had 1200 dollars.

Russ: And this is right at this time you'd quit your job.

Christopher: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I did everything that I could to keep food on the table and pursue one last shot at Wall Street.

Russ: Right. One last shot.

Christopher: One last shot bro. And I was taken to jail for parking tickets.

Russ: So there you were, in I think if I have the story right, you had this thing sort of lined up with a Dean Wither and is your last shot. If I read it right you were gonna be in jail the day that he was expecting you to show up.

Christopher: I had to reschedule that one last appointment. There was a phone and there was a guard. And I said to this guard, "Will you please let me make this one phone call. I've got to reschedule this one appointment. Will you please dial this number." Nothing can ever convince me that it was anything other than the hand of God that made the prison guard go over, dial the number and hand me the handset and the cord behind the bars.

Russ: Cause he didn't have to.

Christopher: That's called the hand of God, baby. We gonna have church up in here right now. That's called the hand of God man, ok?

Russ: Then you had to be successful in the call too.

Christopher: Well the call was brief and to the point. Said "Mr. Costello, something has come up," I wasn't gonna say I'm in jail. We rescheduled the appointment. Set it up 6:30 in the morning, show up, wearing clothes I wore in jail for ten days.

Russ: Was he expecting you to be dressed up...

Christopher: No, no. And I couldn't think about a lie bizarre enough, okay? I told the truth. It was the best thing I could've done. Turns out this gentlemen had been married and divorced three times. He started telling me stories about his ex-wives.

Russ: So he related very well. Did you even think you were making progress on getting the job?

Christopher: Well you know what? Well we sat down and we looked each other in the eye, and I told the truth and he could relate. I didn't have to be wearing no suit, okay? That was it bro. Started first day on Wall Street, had to borrow a suit, show up in a suit two sizes too big, shoes a size too small. That's called a long day Russ.

Russ: It is. Well so much of what you talk about was in the movie, but obviously once you got in you became successful. I've not heard or seen a lot of detail about that, but I guess that you used the same focus, the same persistence and determination that you used to get in and pass the test to be successful once you got there.

Christopher: Because it's part of who you are. You've got to be passionate about it, okay? You got to be passionate about it and people pick up on that, alright? It's a passion, baby and it's like the color of your eyes. People can see it.

Russ: Sure. Well tell me this. What's in the future for you these days? Tell me, I mean you already mentioned another book, and what else Chris?

Christopher: Working on a second book, probably some very high level discussions with some folks and about doing something on television. One guy especially excited about and, we'll see. Will Smith and I are developing a television show based on the Pursuit of Happiness.

Russ: Cool.

Christopher: And I'm in the process now of having a first close on our private equity fund is going to invest solely in South Africa. I'm doing a number of speaking engagements around the country. And other than that I got nothing happening.

Russ: Well the last thing I do understand though, that you are passionate about several charitable causes. Share with me just a couple of things.

Christopher: Well, you know, the one thing in the world, honestly, I could never do enough for Glide Memorial Church and the Reverend Cecil Williams in San Francisco, who used to tell me everyday, "baby steps count too"

Russ: "Baby steps count too."

Christopher: As long as you going forward. And you think about it. You gotta take those baby steps when you're not so certain, you're not clear, you're not sure. You don't know. You're taking strides when your certain you're clear and everything is known. But them baby steps, you gotta take when you don't know. Dr. King put it best when he said, "You might not be able to see the whole staircase, but you gotta take the first step."

Russ: Well I really, sincerely appreciate you giving me some of your valuable time.

Christopher: I'm honored that you came all the way up here.

Russ: You bet. That raps up the radio broadcast of the Business Maker's interview with Chris Gardner, founder and CEO Gardner Rich and Company. But there's more to this lively exchange with Chris at Just go to and look for the Chris Gardner webxtra.

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