The Subway Man: A Conversation with Chris Gardner

by Gary L. Fisher

gary-with-chris-gardnerI have had the privilege to coach thousands of professional and aspiring business owners in my career.  Three decades, actually, with 23 years spent as a Wealth Advisor, and time overlapping in various management and marketing positions. I’ve seen them come, and I’ve seen them go. Without question, in my experience, the most critical component of success that I have observed is persistence:  the ability to focus on a goal, and stay focused, despite roadblocks and challenges. In my opinion, it is the single most critical factor to sustaining success.

When I’ve talked about the importance of persistence, I have used both theoretical and/or true-life examples. Finding REAL stories that resonate can be the difference-maker, when coaching a business owner. So it was with great excitement that I found the autobiography, The Pursuit of Happyness. The story seemed unbelievable—and those are always my favorite kind of stories!

It was in 2006 when the book was first published, that I first started talking to my team about a man who lived in a subway bathroom with his son as a single parent, while he was building his career as a stock broker. Many thought it was something that I was using as a metaphor, and it wasn’t until the book was produced that they believed it. Even then, they were skeptical; it just didn’t seem possible, but there it was in black and white.

Chris Gardner’s story is fairly well known now, and well worth a Google if you aren’t familiar with it.  His book became a New York Times and Washington Post #1 bestseller, and was also the inspiration for the movie of the same name, starring Will Smith, who received Academy Award, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations for his performance. The basics are exceptional. In short Gardner found himself raising his two-year-old son, abandoned by his wife.  He was broke. So broke and alone, that he and his son lived in a filthy men’s bathroom in the San Francisco subway system, for a period of time.

Regardless of the obstacles, Gardner had a dream to become a successful stock broker, which he managed to do under the most trying circumstances imaginable. He later went on to form his own company, Gardner Rich and Company, becoming an entrepreneurial success, and multi-millionaire.  He sold his small stake in Gardner Rich, in a multi-million dollar deal in 2006, then becoming CEO and founder of Christopher Gardner International Holdings, with offices in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Today he focuses on his work as a motivational speaker.  Gardner’s net worth is currently estimated to be in excess of 60 million.

I had the chance to talk to Chris about his story and his advice for those looking to aspire to realize big dreams of their own.

Gary: To what do you attribute your desire to succeed at such a high level?

Chris: My mom! Without her I wouldn’t have had the vision or belief in myself to go for it. I was watching Jacksonville vs. UCLA in the NCAA championship game. The announcers were talking about the futures of two players in the game, Artis Gilmore and Pembrook Burrows. I said aloud to no one, “Wow, one day those guys are gonna make a million dollars!” My Mom Bettye Jean  responded, “Son, if you want to, one day you could make a million dollars.” I absorbed her words.

Gary: What advice would you give to people looking to duplicate your success or find their own path?

Chris: Ask yourself where are the opportunities, and what are you passionate about? Let’s find the places where those two things cross. That’s your sweet spot. The key is to find something you love to do so much, you can’t wait for the sun to rise to do it all over again.”

Gary: There’s a lot of focus these days on politics, government, a lot of arguing about entitlement, who’s to blame, who is responsible? How do you think about that given your journey?

Chris: That’s an interesting question Gary. I ‘d say that it’s important for you to accept that you are responsible for every bump in the road and obstacle you have faced. However, you are also responsible for every success too. It’s on you. I always say ‘I drove here’. I did it. You can’t change something unless you own it.”

Gary: What are you doing these days?

Chris: I am the CEO of my own brand:  Happyness. We left the ‘y’ in there to keep people mindful and aware that it’s your responsibility and that you are responsible for your happiness.

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