With…

Chris Gardner

Why risk homelessness to take your son in?
I made myself a promise as a little boy that I kept as a man: When I had children, they would know who their father was. No matter what I had to do, no matter what the circumstances were, I was going to break this cycle of men who were not there for their children.

What was life on the street like for you and your son?
We lived on the streets for a year. We slept wherever we could and that included subways, bus terminals, airports, hotel lobbies, and public restrooms. We were homeless, but we were not hopeless. There’s a major difference. I had just begun my career on Wall Street. And the most important thing about this period in time — I can’t stress this enough — was that I tried to provide my son with a sense of normalcy. And you can say, “What do you mean by normal? You’re living on the streets with a baby tied to your back, working on Wall Street.” Normal for us was we were together every day. We may not have known where we were going to eat or where our next step was leading us, but we were together.

Tell us about how the red Ferrari changed your life.
The car represented options. It turns out [the owner] was a stockbroker. And he wasn’t just a stockbroker, but he was one of the best stockbrokers in the business. We had a series of lunches and meetings and he would explain things to me. For instance, he’d say, “This is what I do every day. I come to work. I’ve done my research and I’m going to sit here and talk to people on the phone all day and tell them stories about these companies that we believe are undervalued and why they might appreciate in value. And I’m not leaving my office until I’ve made $1,000.” And this was in 1982. I’m saying to myself, “You do your homework, study these businesses, do your analysis, and then you call people and present them with these opportunities. And you sit here until you make $1,000 a day.” That was the beginning of my fascination with this profession.

What advice do you offer to those who want to emulate your success?
If you’re starting a new business with limited resources, there isn’t a better training camp to prepare you than being homeless. Of course, no one takes me up on that offer.

What did you think when you heard Will Smith was portraying you?
My initial reaction was “Wow, I love Will and his movies, but he’s never done anything like this.” And I expressed this to my daughter. She said, “Pop, don’t worry about it. If he can play Muhammad Ali, he can play you.”

Chris Gardner introduced himself to the gentleman getting out of the red Ferrari and asked two questions: “What do you do?” and “How do you do that?” It turns out the man was a stockbroker who commanded

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