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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.
Entrepreneur: What were the hurdles you ran into specifically in starting your own brokerage?
Gardner: I didn't have a degree, I didn't have a politically connected family and I didn't have any money. So it was like, "What's your connection to the marketplace? How am I going to do business with you?" But I never doubted myself. I knew I just needed one opportunity.
Entrepreneur: What was that one opportunity?
Gardner: I met a gentleman who happened to be one of the top institutional salespeople on Wall Street. He became a mentor to me. He introduced me to people in the business. Then all I had to do was convince somebody that I could be successful on Wall Street, and that took me 10 months of interviewing.
Entrepreneur: How do you believe you went from being homeless to running your own business?
Gardner: I got very lucky--lucky beyond luck. I was blessed to find a business that I absolutely love. When the sun cannot come up soon enough in the morning because you want to do your thing, you're going to be successful, and money has nothing to do with it.