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From Scratch

How one entrepreneur built something out of nothing

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This story appears in the December 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

It's the stuff of movies, literally. When Chris Gardner was 28, he marveled at the sight of a particular red Ferrari. He found out the owner was a stockbroker, and Gardner, then working as a medical supplies distribution rep, decided on the spot to make that his goal in life. But Gardner was living in a boarding home that didn't allow children, and when his ex showed up to hand him their infant son, he found himself immediately homeless and responsible for raising a child on his own. Still, he rose from the depths to reach his dream, starting his own brokerage firm, Chicago-based Gardner, Rich & Co., in 1987. This month, Gardner, 52, awaits the release of a movie based on his autobiography, The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith. Here's a look at this real-life fairy tale.

Entrepreneur: How did you overcome your substantial obstacles?

Gardner: The first and most important [key] is something I call spiritual genetics. Anything I've got in me, anything positive I've done, I got from my mother. My mother taught me that I could have dreams and I could do things.

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