Skip to content
Subscriber Only

From Homeless to Multimillionaire

Chris Gardner, the man whose rags-to-riches story inspired the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, explains how he harnessed his passion to turn his life around

It's not every day you get the chance to pick the brain of a man whose real-life rags-to-riches story was turned into a Hollywood movie starring one of America's top actors. But the other day I had the opportunity to spend time with Chris Gardner, subject of the 2006 movie The Pursuit of Happyness, in which Gardner was played by Will Smith.

While attending an unpaid internship program at Dean Witter Reynolds in 1981, Gardner spent a year on the streets with his two-year-old son. They took refuge at night in a church shelter or the bathroom of a BART subway station in Oakland, Calif. Nobody at work knew. Gardner eventually won a position as a stockbroker at Dean Witter. Two years later he left for Bear Stearns (BSC), where he became a top earner. In 1987, he founded his own brokerage firm, Gardner Rich,in Chicago. Today, Gardner is a multimillionaire, a motivational speaker, a philanthropist, and an international businessman who is about to launch a private equity fund that will invest solely in South Africa. His partner in the fund? Nelson Mandela. Not bad for a guy who, six years before founding his own brokerage firm, was "fighting, scratching, and crawling my way out of the gutter with a baby on my back."