Christopher P. Gardner
A self-made millionaire whose improvised journey sticks in your mind like an unforgettable solo.
If Chris Gardner had become the jazz trumpeter that he once dreamed of becoming, his horn not his life would probably be his testimony. Instead, the baritone, bald-headed Christopher P. Gardner today is president and CEO of the Chicago-based brokerage firm Gardner Rich & Co., which he founded in 1987. He is a self-made millionaire whose improvised journey sticks in your mind like an unforgettable solo.
Prior to launching his own firm, Mr. Gardner worked for several prestigious Wall Street firms. He landed his first job in the securities industry in 1981 with Dean Witter Reynolds. Later, he spent four years with Bear Stearns & Co., first in San Francisco and later in New York, where he became a top earner.
A father of two and benefactor to many thousands of students, teachers and other school employees around the nation, Mr. Gardner has directed his firm to contribute 10 percent of all profits to communities where the company does business. Gardner Rich & Co. has donated more than $1 million to public education institutions in the communities it serves. "Our motto is simple," says Mr. Gardner, "equal opportunity also means equal responsibility."
Mr. Gardner gets great satisfaction from "giving back" to his community because before he had his own high-rise office on the 60th floor, before he owned four homes and could indulge his passion for clothes, he lived such an arduous life that he was on a first name basis with poverty and pampers. At one time, he was a working poor single parent, living in an Oakland homeless shelter with his infant son.
Mr. Gardner's tale of survival and success has earned him national acclaim. In January, 2003, he was featured on the ABC news program "20/20." That segment caught the attention of several prominent Hollywood studios and producers who have compared Mr. Gardner's story to the critically acclaimed film "Antwone Fisher," which was Denzel Washington's directorial debut. Currently, Columbia Pictures has acquired the rights to bring Mr. Gardner's amazing story to the big screen. Mega-star Will Smith will co-produce the film and star in the movie as Chris Gardner. Production is expected to begin in 2004. Mr. Gardner is also working on a book project with author Quincy Troupe, who collaborated with Miles Davis on the jazz legend's autobiography.
On the horizon, the 49-year-old Mr. Gardner is forging closer business ties to South Africa, where former president Nelson Mandela recently welcomed him into his home.