Chris Gardner was born to Bettye Jean Gardner and Thomas Turner on February 9, 1954, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has a stepsister, Ophelia from his mother’s earlier marriage and two half siblings, Kimberly and Sharon from his mother’s third husband Freddie Triplett. They had a harsh childhood with instances of separation from their mother when Bettye was fasley accused by crimes by the violent husband. The mother served as inspration for Chris motivating him to be independent and confident.
During the 1960s Gardner was influenced by political figures like Eldrige Cleaver, Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X.
Gardner worked to become a top trainee at Dean Witter Reynolds. He arrived at the office early and stayed late each day, persistently making calls to prospective clients with his goal being 200 calls per day. His perseverance paid off when, in 1982, Gardner passed his Series 7 Exam on the first try and became a full employee of the firm. Eventually, Gardner was recruited by Bear Stearns & Company in San Francisco.
About four months after his wife disappeared with their son, she returned and left him with Gardner. By then, he was earning a small salary and was able to afford rooming in a flophouse. He willingly accepted sole custody of his child; however, the rooming house where he lived did not allow children. Although he was gainfully employed, Gardner and his son secretly struggled with homelessness while he saved money for a rental house in Berkeley.
In 1987, Gardner established the firm, Gardner Rich & Co, in Chicago, Illinois, an “institutional brokerage firm specializing in the execution of debt, equity, and derivative products transactions for some of the nation’s largest institutions, public pension plans, and unions.”His new company was started in his small Presidential Towers apartment, with start-up capital of $10,000 and a single piece of furniture: a wooden desk that doubled as the family dinner table.The “Rich” in the name was in honour of commodities trader Marc Rich, who had no connection to the company and whom Gardner had never met, but whom Gardner considered “one of the most successful futures traders in the world.”
AN INTERESTING FACT:
He had dreams of becoming a doctor, which he abandoned at the age of 26.