If you don’t recognise the name Chris Gardner, perhaps you’ll be better acquainted with his face. No? Well, admittedly, it was still a long shot.
Unless you happen to work in financial services over in the States, you’re almost certainly only likely to know Chris from the depiction of him in the 2006 movie: ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’.
If you’re currently unemployed and twiddling your thumbs, or trawling the internet in a dead-end job, dreaming of something better paid and more fulfilling, you could do a lot worse than listen to Chris’ story.
The film, which is outstanding and features one of Will Smith’s most undeniably impressive acting turns, is merely inspired by the truth of Gardner’s humbling and frankly astounding life, taking a few small liberties for the sake of artistic license.
In the mid-eighties, Chris Gardner was a smart guy who’d made some bad decisions. He was selling over-priced medical equipment that nobody wanted to buy and struggling to make ends meet to provide for his partner and young son.
Then, one day, something happened that dramatically changed the course of Gardner’s life.
He bumped into a stranger, who had just stepped out of a Ferrari. Envious, Chris asked the man how he could afford something like that. This man turned out to be a stockbroker. This stockbroker introduced Chris to some his contacts – men who were offering internships at their firms – and Chris applied to all of them.
One of the firms, Dean Witter Reynolds, surprisingly offered him an interview.
Chris saw his life as having veered wildly off course, but the dreams he held of bettering himself and taking care of his family were still burning. This was a chance, probably his last, to make those dreams a reality.
At the end of the scheme, only one intern out of over 40 would get the job. It was a slim and risky chance – the monthly stipend amounted to $2204, not enough to cover his outgoings.
It was time to stick or twist.
(This next part of the story shows the sheer size of the stones on this guy.)
He landed a place on that internship, not by knowing someone in the company or having an amazing degree from a fancy school (or any degree actually); he simply pitched up for his interview, fresh from a ten day stint in jail for unpaid parking fines, wearing the same casual clothes that he’d been arrested in, and somehow charmed the pants off them.
Quite how he nailed that meeting is beyond this Classy Gent. He was completely unqualified, unprepared, and underdressed. He must have some seriously awesome chat.
When he got home that day, he found out his wife had somewhat irritatingly left him, taking his young son with her.
He didn’t let it get in his way. Chris worked unbelievably hard to secure a full time job at the firm, staying far later than anyone else and starting way earlier. When the programme finished, he landed his dream job.
Right after his appointment, his wife briefly popped up again, before leaving their son in his care and promptly disappearing off into the blue.
Obviously Chris was delighted to have his son, the motivation for everything he was doing, back in his arms, but this was to bring about his greatest challenge to date.
During his internship, Chris had no savings and was forced to stay in a dosshouse with a bunch of assorted tramps, migrant workers, and other vagrants. When he took over care of his son, they kicked him out, and he then found himself completely homeless.
Despite now bringing home a reasonable trainee’s salary, without any savings Chris was unable make the deposit for a rental home. They slept wherever they could find shelter: hiding in his office, parks, and even the disabled toilet at a subway station.
Eventually Chris and his son were permitted entry to a women’s refuge, where they remained until he’d saved enough money to secure a place of their own.
The fact that he managed to hold down such a prestigious position at a top firm, while going though all this, is as commendable as it is astonishing. At no point did he let slip to his colleagues that he was living that way.
He turned up for work in a crisp clean shirt each day, knuckled down, and brought in vast sums of money for the company; then picked up his infant son and scrambled around for somewhere relatively safe and warm to sleep – preferably somewhere indoors.
In the film this lasts for barely a few months, while he completes his internship. In reality he kept this up for over a year.
Today Chris is a very wealthy man. He founded his own investment company, which he later sold in a multi-million pound deal, then started a new national business (Christopher Gardner International Holdings), which is apparently very successful.
He now divides his time between running his business and philanthropy, unsurprisingly focusing on helping the homeless off the streets and into work. He even offers them paid internships within his own business.
He also finally bought his own Ferrari, the car that prompted his incredible journey, from none other than basketball legend Michael Jordan. The license plate: “NOT MJ”.
This guy needs to have his picture printed in the dictionary next to the word ‘determined’ and should be a lesson to anyone who claims to have a dream: If you really want it, how far are you prepared to go to get it?