Recounting a deeply personal saga of growing up not knowing his father, and then holding to an undying commitment to be a daily presence in his son’s life despite a bitter divorce, a year of homelessness, 10 days in a maximum security prison for unpaid parking tickets, and an arduous upward climb to make it as a stock broker, Chris Gardner held Family Reunion attendees in rapt attention Tuesday morning.
Gardner’s determination to hold onto his son despite all odds was every bit matched by his professional ambition. Starting out as an unpaid intern for a stock brokerage firm, and working his way into a commission plus a small base sales position, he said he had made a determination early on to “be world class at something.” It was a determination that kept him focused on the one thing that he needed to do every day: “I made 200 cold calls a day on a rotary phone. Everyday. See how this finger is cockeyed? Next time you sit down at your desk, look at your finger. If it's too straight, you know you ain't doin your thing."
His focus and hard work led him to the highest ranks of his profession and to a higher purpose - something every real estate agent can relate to.
"You all aren't in the sales business, you're in the business of keeping families in homes."
Gardner's story caught the attention of the national news media and Hollywood movie producers who convinced him to participate in a major motion picture based on his life. Starring Will Smith, “The Pursuit of Happyness" ended up grossing more than $400 million. His book with the same title was a New York Times Bestseller for 25 weeks – three of them as No. 1 – and has been translated into 40 languages.
“When one of the biggest movie stars in the world decides to do a movie based on your life, your life changes,” Gardner says, adding, “it took the movie producers $70 million to accomplish what I was able to do for nothing.”
Despite the international notoriety and financial success that he has achieved, he claims without question that the most important accomplishment of his life was “breaking the cycle of fathers not being there for his children.”
To everyone's surprise after the Keynote, Gardner and Mo Anderson began signing books for attendees!